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Sewers

File photo.

By Aidan Johnson

The Democratic congressional candidates for District 1 — Nancy Goroff and John Avlon — attended a meet the candidates night at C.P. La Manno’s restaurant in Miller Place April 30. During the debate, Goroff and Avlon discussed issues such as foreign aid, social media, Social Security and more. The congressional seat is currently held by Nick LaLota (R-NY1).

Introductions

Avlon, who served as an anchor on CNN before deciding to run for Congress, said that he joined the race because he “didn’t feel like this was a time for talking, I think this is a time for doing.” He also described being frustrated that the district was being seen as a battleground swing district, and that it was important to win both Democrats and Independents “to build the broadest possible coalition to defend our democracy, defeat Donald Trump [R] and win back the House.”

Goroff, who has formerly served as chair of the Department of Chemistry at Stony Brook University and previously ran for the congressional seat in 2020 against former Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), described how she co-founded a nonprofit called the Long Island Strong Schools Alliance, along with a nonpartisan political action committee to get “good people elected to the school board.” According to LISSA’s website, its mission is “to support policies that strengthen education in our public schools, with a focus on critical thinking skills, civic engagement, diversity, equity and inclusion.” Goroff said that LaLota has “not been there for the people of this district.”

Social Security and Medicare

Goroff described Social Security and Medicare as being “two of the most successful programs this country has ever had.” She said that Medicare’s age should be lowered from 65, and that the income level tax cap for Social Security, which currently stands at $168,600, should be increased.

Avlon also supported raising the income tax cap for Social Security. “The one thing we got to do is make sure we’re rebuilding and strengthening the middle class, and making sure that people have a path from the working class to the middle class, and making sure that we’re keeping our promise on a federal level with Social Security and Medicare,” he said. 

Social media

Avlon supports the law that will force ByteDance, a Chinese technology company, to divest itself of TikTok or have it banned in the United States, saying, “If you’re owning a major media platform or company, it’s reasonable that you’re not being owned by a hostile foreign power that’s trying to propagate its own disinformation.”

Goroff pointed out the distinction between “keeping platforms free and open for fair information and banning people on those platforms,” stating that having TikTok either banned or sold is about not subjecting people to disinformation, with this issue also extending to making sure that other platforms, such as Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, are “fair and open platforms.”

Ukraine and Israel

Avlon said that he would “absolutely” support funding for Ukraine. For Israel, he said that when seeing “a vicious act of terrorism like October 7, I believe instinctively and deeply that we need to stand with the victims of terrorism and not blame the victims of terrorism.” He also stated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it difficult to have more broad and bipartisan support for Israel, due to his policies and the level of civilian casualties, along with “the hamstringing of humanitarian aid.” Avlon called for a two-state solution with a demilitarized Palestinian state.

Goroff also supported aid for Ukraine. For Israel, she stressed that the conflict is very complicated, with its history extending far past the current conflict. She explained that Hamas is a terrorist organization that is “absolutely not helping the people of the Palestinian communities.” However, she said that the Palestinian National Authority is not helping either, due to extensive corruption that provides no alternative to Hamas. Additionally, she said that Netanyahu has “done everything he can” to strengthen Hamas against the Palestinian National Authority. Overall, Goroff called for a regime change in Israel, and a legitimate government in the West Bank, along with Israel increasing trade with its bordering countries, and for these countries to increase trade and stop worrying about uprisings within their populations.

Water quality, septic systems and sewers

Avlon called cesspools and septic systems a “fundamental issue of infrastructure and investment that needs federal dollars.” He said that it is necessary to protect the Long Island aquifers, which will require federal investment, some of which “has already been allocated to expand our sewer system and get us off septic.” If elected to Congress, Avlon would want to serve on the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, in order to help bring solutions to these issues.

Goroff said that water quality was an extremely important topic: “Voters across the political spectrum care about what our coastline looks like and what the water that comes out of our tap looks like.” She noted that there are places on Long Island that need sewers, which could bring opportunities for businesses, but there are also some places where sewers would not make financial sense. 

The Democratic primary is on Tuesday, June 25.

File photo by Raymond Janis
By Samantha Rutt

As the local election season intensifies, Suffolk County’s wastewater infrastructure has now become the defining policy issue, with residents and environmentalists demanding immediate action to address what they consider an environmental crisis.

Water quality of Long Island’s coveted waterways is currently suffering as the county’s wastewater infrastructure deteriorates rapidly. Much of the system was built decades ago and has not been adequately upgraded to meet the demands of the growing population, critics say.

“Clean water is crucial to the health of our families, the lifeblood of our economy and central to our way of life,” said businessman Dave Calone, Democratic candidate for Suffolk County executive running against Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “Unfortunately, our water quality is at an all-time low, and we need to act now to protect it.”

Local officials, residents and environmentalists have voiced concerns over the issue. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, “Suffolk County Legislators have an ethical and moral obligation to protect our drinking and coastal water resources.”

County Water Quality Restoration Act

The Suffolk County Water Quality Restoration Act, a plan to restore the county’s water quality, includes two bills that would create a fund to restore clean water by connecting homes and businesses to sewers and finance clean water septic system replacements.

“The need for an overall plan for wastewater infrastructure has been well-recognized for more than 60 years,” said Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration.

Earlier this year, Scully had spearheaded a proposed 1/8 penny sales tax initiative to finance wastewater infrastructure. This proposal was rejected by the county Legislature in July, setting the stage for a contentious election season over this issue [See story, “Suffolk County Legislature recesses, blocks referendum on wastewater fund,” July 27, TBR News Media].

“Tragically, the Legislature doesn’t consider this a priority and has refused to let the public vote on this plan,” Esposito said. “Letting the public vote on a clean water referendum is good policy and good for democracy. It is deeply disturbing that the legislators support neither of those objectives.”

Impact on elections

The Republican vote to recess has met with fierce opposition from county Democrats, who are using the wastewater controversy to highlight differences in platforms.

“Republicans did not vote to put the referendum on the ballot,” said Keith Davies, Suffolk County Democratic Committee campaign manager. “It is clear that Republicans chose not to trust voters to make their own decisions. In our opinion, it was the wrong decision.”

Responding to these charges, county Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), who is defending her 18th Legislative District seat against pediatrician Eve Meltzer-Krief (D-Centerport), indicated that her caucus is avoiding a rush to judgment.

“Rushing to pass legislation that is flawed and that will raise our taxes is simply irresponsible and not what our residents deserve,” Bontempi said. “Holding off with a referendum for a couple of months will certainly not lead to the end of Long Island, like some fearmongers like to claim.”

Many of the county’s wastewater treatment plants, pipelines and pumping stations are well past their intended lifespans, representing a growing risk for sewage leaks, overflows and contamination of local waterways and bays.

Meltzer-Krief warned that this could have devastating consequences for the region and its fragile ecosystems, including its renowned coastal areas and marine life.

“The quality of our waterways and bays here in Suffolk County is currently the poorest it has ever been,” she said. “The main cause is nitrogen runoff from outdated cesspools and septic systems which flows into our waters and triggers potentially toxic algal blooms which deprive marine life of the oxygen they need to survive.”

Research from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that nitrogen from sewage is suffocating Long Island’s bays and harbors, contaminating drinking water and causing fish kills and algal blooms.

“Thankfully, scientists know how to reverse this troubling and urgent environmental concern and clean our waters,” Meltzer-Krief said.

But, she added, “It is the responsibility of our county legislators to follow the science and protect our children from the toxins in the water by securing funding for the recommended clean water infrastructure.”

While local officials and environmental organizations have been sounding the alarm for years over aging infrastructure, progress has been slow and funding for these projects has often fallen short of what is required.

Restoring clean, healthy water requires drastically reducing nitrogen pollution from its primary source — Suffolk County’s approximately 360,000 nitrogen-polluting cesspools and septic systems.

“Once the legislation has been amended to properly address our wastewater infrastructure, the voters will be able to decide,” Bontempi said. “The Republican majority at the Suffolk County Legislature wants clean water, too.”

Suffolk County elections will take place Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Environmental advocates protest outside the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge on Tuesday, July 25. Photo by Raymond Janis

Cries for liberty and demands for clean water were heard outside the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge Tuesday, July 25.

For the second straight month, the Republican-led Suffolk County Legislature shot down a proposed 1/8 penny sales tax creating a local match program for state and federal subsidization for wastewater infrastructure. 

The 10-7 vote to recess was along party lines, effectively dooming the measure from reaching the November ballot.

According to environmentalists and county officials, individually operated cesspools have grown increasingly problematic, with leakage from septic tanks contributing to brown tides, rust tides, algal blooms and fish kills. 

Dave Calone, Democratic nominee for Suffolk County executive. Photo by Raymond Janis

In a rally, dozens of environmental advocates and community members joined Democratic candidates Tuesday morning, who collectively condemned the course taken by the majority.

“Today, the most fundamental need of water meets that most fundamental of American values — the right to vote,” said Dave Calone, Democratic nominee for Suffolk County executive. “The county Legislature needs to act. They need to give the people of Suffolk County the right to have a say about their own future.”

Joining Calone and others were several Democratic candidates running for county seats, including former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright of Setauket and pediatrician Eve Meltzer-Krief of Centerport.

Englebright, a geologist by training who had previously served as chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, tied clean water initiatives to regional economic development. 

“Our two largest industries on Long Island are tourism and agriculture,” he said. “Both of them require clean water.”

He added that Long Island’s sole-source aquifer is continually “in motion,” with contaminated groundwater “changing the chemistry and ecology” of the county’s harbors and bays.

“Do you think the tourists who visit us, who put the money into our restaurants, hotels and motels, will want to come out here if there are dead fish and putrid algae masses in the harbors?” Englebright said.

Skyler Johnson, chair of Suffolk County Young Democrats. Photo by Raymond Janis

Meltzer-Krief maintained that the Legislature is depriving county residents of limited grant opportunities from the state and federal governments.

Skyler Johnson, chair of Suffolk County Young Democrats and former candidate for New York State Senate, referred to the Legislature’s posture as “willful apathy.”

“The Republican majority in the Legislature is throwing young people’s futures under the bus,” he said, adding, “We cannot afford to be using water that is polluted. It is not fair for our residents, our children or our future.”

Legislators quarrel

Inside the Legislature building, Republicans and Democrats went back and forth on the issue.

Majority leader Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) indicated that the “bill as it sits right now is not right.”

“We disagree on resolutions all the time,” he said. “Let’s get together and fix it, and we can.”

Eve Meltzer-Krief, candidate for Suffolk County Legislature. Photo by Raymond Janis

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said the majority is passing up on “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“If we keep waiting … the water will get worse,” she said. “It will cost us more to fix the water. People will be getting sick. We’ll be losing money on our economy.”

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) suggested there are surpluses within the county budget better suited for reallocation for sewers. He said he objected to introducing new taxes with alternatives on the table.

“Stop taxing the people and run the government more efficiently,” he said.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she was saddened by the decision, suggesting that as the body delays funding “our water gets dirtier.”

“If we wait to get it just right, the money gets allocated elsewhere,” she said. “Why should we wait for clean water?”

A second measure that would consolidate the county’s 27 sewer districts was also tabled.

As the Legislature recesses, wastewater infrastructure will likely remain central as campaign season ramps up.

Photo from Panico's Facebook page
By Dan Panico

The false narrative by our governor, Kathy Hochul (D), continues with this nonsensical, heavy-handed housing plan that threatens to override long-established law and the will of the people who live in local communities. It’s a false narrative because the notion that local municipalities aren’t approving housing is patently false; it’s the lack of sewer infrastructure coupled with the practical aspects of a developer’s land and construction costs that make the practical application of the idea extremely difficult, not obstinance derived from local municipalities. Let’s discuss some examples.

Across the Town of Brookhaven in Port Jefferson Station, North Bellport, East Patchogue and Mastic Beach, there are four quick examples of pending proposals where mixed-use redevelopment is desired by the community and embraced by the town, and three are in proximity to a train station. Each development would offer new restaurant and retail options, as well as brand new housing options for young and old and everyone in between. The municipal opposition portrayed by the governor simply does not exist here; it is a false narrative. 

However, with the exception of East Patchogue, where the Town of Brookhaven in a very forward-thinking manner buried dry sewer lines to connect to the nearby Village of Patchogue sewer district years ago, the biggest hurdles in the other three project examples remain the lack of readily available sewer capacity. While we are working with Suffolk County on each other project, the costs associated with the sewer infrastructure necessary for such development and redevelopment render the projects unbuildable without some sort of government sewer funding. That is where the governor should invest her time and the state’s funding by helping Suffolk expand sewer infrastructure so local municipalities can continue to work on community-based redevelopment.

To continue to threaten local municipalities with state rubber-stamp approvals demonstrates a glaring lack of awareness of the realities of the situation or the logistical realities of what real development actually entails. Moreover, in most areas on Long Island a developer could not realistically build these state-envisioned housing projects because of the high cost of land, divided into so many small parcels with single-family homes and businesses, combined with costly construction requirements, parking requirements and sewer infrastructure costs that would never make the project financially viable, let alone affordable. This fact is being overlooked as the governor portends opposition to projects that have not come forward and proposals that simply do not exist. In fact, it’s the exact opposite approach in Brookhaven, as we are leading the way by amending our codes and seeking out and working with developers.

The governor would be better off stopping the political charade and giving funding to Suffolk County from the federal infrastructure bill and the recently passed NYS Clean Water Bond Act so that local municipalities can do the work of redeveloping our downtowns. It’s compromise and cooperation that make things happen, not threats and political theater.

Dan Panico (R) is the Town of Brookhaven deputy supervisor and councilman for the 6th District, which includes Mastic, Moriches, Eastport, Manorville and Calverton. He is currently running for Brookhaven Town supervisor.

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

Lawrence Aviation

Sarah Lansdale, the Suffolk County economic development and planning commissioner, updated the body on the proposed conceptual layout of the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station.

“We have come up with a plan of three basic uses of the property,” she said. “One is a light-industry use … for a proposed solar development. The property south of the Greenway is proposed to be for open space … and then a railyard, or railroad usage, on the northeastern section of the property.”

Lansdale also reported that the U.S. Department of Justice recently approved language within a global settlement agreement between 11 claimants, adding, “Now we’re getting them to sign on to the agreement. Of the 11, we have three remaining that have yet to sign on.”

The county is working to finalize a bid package to demolish the remaining buildings on-site during the warmer months.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) thanked Lansdale for continuing her efforts on behalf of county residents. 

“Very few people want to deal with difficult, complex projects like this,” Hahn said. “This was very difficult, we are so close, and I’m just grateful.”

Civic member Ira Costell objected to a Feb. 23 op-ed in The Port Times Record, “Village elections and Port Jeff’s rapidly changing challenges,” in which former Port Jefferson Village trustee Bruce Miller suggested expanding the limits of the village to derive tax revenue from the Superfund site.

“I think that’s something we need to discuss and take a position on shortly,” Costell said, adding that such a proposal “impacts our community and a potential tax base to the Comsewogue School District.” 

Civic president Ed Garboski and vice president Sal Pitti objected to the annexation proposal. Corresponding secretary Charlie McAteer said a discussion on the matter would be appropriate during next month’s meeting.

County sewers

Deputy County Executive Peter Scully delivered a presentation outlining the county’s clean water initiative, remarking that a comprehensive sewer plan has eluded county officials for decades.

“Most of Suffolk County is without sewer infrastructure,” he said. “Sewers throughout Suffolk County have not happened for a variety of reasons,” namely the enormous costs associated with their construction.

Cesspools remain the only waste treatment technology available to many county residents, which Scully indicated can impair the sole-source aquifer upon which residents depend for their drinking water. Leakage associated with septic tanks, Scully said, can contribute to brown tides, rust tides, algal blooms and fish kills throughout the county’s waterways.

To address the problem, the administration is pitching the Suffolk County Clean Water Plan, which includes a one-eighth of a penny per dollar sales tax, to create a local match program for federal and state subsidization of sewer infrastructure.

“Right now, there are tremendous funding sources available on the federal and state levels,” he said, noting the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress in 2021 and the recently passed New York State $4.2 billion environmental bond act. 

“Those are the two sources of funding that we’re all anxious to make sure our communities get a fair share of, and to do that we need a local match,” the deputy county executive said. “The [clean water plan] funding source that we’re talking about provides that local match.”

Reports

Andrea Malchiodi, assistant director of Comsewogue Public Library, announced that the library’s budget vote and trustee election would take place Tuesday, April 4.

Comsewogue High School students Kylie and Max updated the body on the news from the Comsewogue School District. Kylie reported that the high school’s business academy and work-based learning program were both approved career and technical education pathways by the New York State Education Department. 

Max noted Comsewogue’s recent athletic achievements, with the Warriors girls and boys basketball teams advancing to the postseason. The wrestling team vied for the county final, while the varsity cheerleading team competed at the national tournament in Florida.

Suffolk County COPE officer Casey Berry said the vehicle theft crime surge throughout the local area remains unresolved. “Lock your cars in your driveway and when you’re going to Starbucks,” she told the body. “Don’t leave the fob in the car.”

Berry also reported that officers within the department are being more active. “I think COVID affected law enforcement as well as the rest of the community in many ways,” she said, adding, “Our leadership is saying, ‘We really need to protect our community.’”

This boost in police activity, Berry added, is reflected by rising numbers of summons written by police officers, along with the department’s ongoing body camera initiative.   

Civic elections

Garboski reported the results of the nominating committee created last month after he and Pitti declared they would be leaving the hamlet before the year’s end, thereby vacating their posts.

Christine Allen and Costell were each nominated for the position of civic president, and Carolyn Sagliocca was the sole candidate nominated as vice president. The three candidates publicly accepted their nominations. 

Additional nominations will be accepted from the floor during the next meeting March 28, on which date a vote will take place. The newly electeds will formally enter their posts in April.

During the meeting, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented proclamations to Garboski and Pitti for their long service to the Comsewogue community.

“You cannot put a price on the time, effort, energy, knowledge and dedication they have brought to this task,” Romaine said. “They have worked around the clock to improve the quality of not their lives, but the quality of life of everyone in this community.”

Brookhaven Town councilman on redeveloping the Middle Country Road corridor

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), above. Photo from Brookhaven Town website
Part I

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on several major initiatives during his time at Town Hall. In Part I of this two-part interview, LaValle discusses the recent completion of paving projects in Selden, the need for sewers on Middle Country Road, his background in government and the influence of his family on his decision-making. 

Could you discuss the recent paving projects completed in Selden and your ongoing work with the Town Highway Department?

Well, that is a major, major issue in my area. I have the smallest geographic area in the whole town. Our districts are broken up by population — about 80,000 people in each district — but my area is a very dense, compact area. What that means is that, obviously, I have a lot of roads, a lot of neighborhoods, a lot of businesses.

One of the things that we did a few years ago was that we made a commitment that we were going to spend $150 million on the town end, which is $15 million a year for the next 10 years, in paving. We made a pledge to the community that that’s what we were going to do to try to help the infrastructure in the town. We’ve been on target with that.

How have you coordinated with Suffolk County to bring sewers into downtown areas within your district?

That is absolutely crucial for the growth of the business community in Centereach and Selden along the Middle Country Road corridor. Hundreds and hundreds of businesses that run up and down this road are unsewered, and even the houses there, every one has a cesspool.

Our big issue on Middle Country Road is that if you look at these lots, they’re all half-acre and acre lots. So what can you build on it? You can’t really get the nice restaurants that other areas have, and that hinders how we can develop and how we can move forward.

We’ve had a lot of success in redeveloping a lot of these lots throughout this corridor, but bringing [sewers] here allows us to take some of these beat up lots and have developers come in and combine them and build something new, whether it’s a two-story office building or a nice restaurant. Because with that sewer capacity, you have the ability to do that.

That’s really why it will be a huge game changer for this area. It will bring good new development down the road. When I was with [the late Suffolk County Legislator] Tom Muratore [R-Ronkonkoma], we kind of started that process to get the sewers going. Now [county Legislator] Nick Caracappa [C-Selden] has jumped into office and it’s really getting supercharged right now.

The county is going to be setting this up, but it gives the town the option — because I deal with rezoning — to be able to start talking to property owners and say, “Hey listen, we have sewers coming down here. If you put this lot together and this lot together, then we could do this.” That’s when you really start getting some exciting opportunities with new businesses and various other things that we want to come into the area.

To follow up, what is your organizational philosophy toward commercial redevelopment?

I think the big key is that when you look up and down the road, we have some small lots that are a quarter-acre or a half-acre — all beat up properties. Right now, anybody coming in and buying them asks, “What can I really do with them?”

Take a look at the property values on Middle Country Road. Some 37,000 cars drive down the portion of Middle Country Road in my area every single day; 37,000 is a massive number — a lot of cars. And great property values. It’s prime real estate, but for developers to come in, you need to have the sewer capacity to be able to build a two-story building on an acre lot, and right now you can’t do that.

If you’re a developer, you have to spend money to buy the property, then money to build it, and then you have to be able to rent it to make your money back. Let’s be very honest about it. That’s what developers do. That’s what businesspeople do, they’re here to make money. So you have to be able to attract them in. By giving them sewers, you will then give them the capacity that their money will go out to redevelop, but it’s also going to come back to them because they’ll be able to bring in new businesses.

We’ve come a long way in the last nine years. The big thing for me as far as developing properties is developing that relationship with the business owners and the property owners, being a straight shooter, telling them, “Hey, this is going to work and this is not going to work.” It’s about not wasting people’s time.

A mentor of mine once asked me, “What’s the most important thing in business?” At the time, I was young — like 24 or 25 — and I said money. He said, “No, not even close.” The most important thing in business is time. If you’re a service provider, it’s the time from when your order is made to when you provide that service to your client. Or if you’re a builder, it’s the time it takes to buy the property, to get through the zoning process and to finish off building. If it takes more time, it’s going to cost you more money.

For me, I like to be a straight shooter with the developers, with the property owners, with the businesspeople, and say if it’s not a realistic concept, don’t string people along, just tell them. If it is a realistic concept, then how can we get you from point A to point B? How can we get you from when you buy the property to when you develop the property?

What is your professional background, and how did you end up at Town Hall?

I started off many years ago, after I graduated college, as chief of staff for Dan Losquadro [R] when he was a [county] legislator many years ago [and is now town highway superintendent]. I worked with Dan for about two years and then I went into the private sector — I owned a title agency for about four years. We have since sold that business and I went into the mortgage business, which I still do to this day.

During that time a bunch of years back, I was asked to come back part time to the [county] Legislature to work for Tom Muratore. He was about a year into the job and was trying to figure out his way a little bit. I decided to come back and I was with Tom for about three years. Then the opportunity to run for Town Council came up.

I never really thought that I would run for office, even though my family had been in office. I didn’t think that was what I wanted to do, but I had a lot of friends and family and people in the community come up to me — because they saw all the work that I was doing with Tom — and they said, “Listen, you do a great job and we really need you to run for the Town Board. We think you could do a great job here.”

I took that run back in 2013 and I was fortunate to get elected. I’ve been a sitting town councilman ever since. It’s been nine years of working on a lot of things within the district and it’s really something that I’ve grown to love and enjoy.

How has your family shaped your approach to public service?

My brother, John [Jay LaValle (R)], was a town councilman and a town supervisor. My cousin, Ken LaValle [R-Port Jefferson], was a state senator for over 40 years. They had very different styles when they were in office. When I was a kid, I watched how they worked.

Ken was very statesmanlike in the way he went about things. John was very aggressive and would take care of business and kind of push things and run around with a lot of energy. I kind of look at both of them and have learned from both styles.

I think there are opportunities to be aggressive when you have to push things and show excitement, like my brother John. I also think there are other opportunities when, like my cousin Ken, you have to sit back, listen, take it all in, really understand the situation, and do your homework to make sure that you know what you’re talking about. I think both of those styles kind of mesh with who I am.

Part II

For over a decade, Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on the Selden Park Complex. Now he can see the finish line. In Part II of this two-part interview, the councilman reflects upon the role of parks, open spaces and the mentorship of the late Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), under whom LaValle served as legislative aide.

What is the status of the Selden Park Complex?

Now this is something that I’ve been working on since I was aiding Tom Muratore 12 years ago. This is going to be the largest park in the Town of Brookhaven — 24 acres that we’re breaking ground on.

Heritage Park [in Mount Sinai] is a park that’s at the end of County Route 83. When we started talking about this with the community years ago, people said, “That’s something we want. Can we do that?” And now we’re right there.

Phase I was to bring back the two Little League fields near Grace Presbyterian Church. I actually grew up playing baseball on these fields. Grace used to lease them to the Little League, but then Grace was having issues with its insurance, so [the fields] went fallow. We were able to work with the county to buy this property. The deal was cut so that the county would buy the properties and the town would develop them. Veterans [Park] used to be a baseball field. We then came in, redid it, and now it’s a multipurpose field for all the kids. That was Phase II.

We just broke ground recently on the third and final phase, the biggest phase that we have going on here. We’re building two additional baseball fields, a basketball court, pickleball courts, playgrounds, a concession stand, shade shelters throughout, a storage facility for our guys and batting cages. And for the first time in the town’s history — and I always like to be the first guy — I was the first guy to pickleball and now I’m going to be the first guy to roller and deck hockey.

This really comes back to my childhood growing up in Centereach. We had two deck hockey and roller hockey rinks, and I would play deck hockey with my friends. We talked about it and said, “You know what? This is a good idea. Let’s bring this back to the community.” It will be the first time ever that we’re bringing that back.

I kind of refer to this as a generational park. This is where we hope that families that come to the area will walk their children around in strollers around the walking trails. Then when they get a little bit older, they bring the kids over to the playgrounds. Then they get a little bit older and play any kind of sport, whether it’s softball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer … whatever sport they want. Then the kids go off to college, and hopefully they come back to the community where they’re going to be doing the same thing and raising their families using this facility.

What is your office doing to protect open spaces?

Just this past year in the Centereach/Selden community, right on the corner of Old Town Road and County Route 83, there’s a parcel over there that we just made a preserve. That happened to be a town property, and we saw an opportunity to kind of protect it and consider it a nature preserve.

That’s something that I think is really important that we do and that we continue to do as a township. You have to keep in mind that our drinking water is extremely important to what we’re doing — it’s right under our feet. And protecting our lands protects that drinking water. Bringing sewers protects that drinking water, so that’s a critical issue for us.

What do you foresee as the long-term impact of bringing more public funds into the Middle Country area?

It’s one of the reasons I ran for office nine years ago. I grew up in this area, and I can tell you the sentiments of people back then. Generally, we were looking around at all these other communities and watching what they were building — money going here, they’re building a park there, preserving property over here. They said, “This guy’s getting this, they’re getting that, and what are we getting? Are we getting our fair share here?”

That’s something I focus on every day, about how we can rebuild and what money we can bring in. Bringing in new development is one thing — the town doesn’t put money into that. I have to go out and recruit people and work with businesspeople. But making sure our parks are up to par, making sure we’re getting extra money for our roads, these are things you are required to do as a town councilman.

As far as parks go, in my time here, we really have run through all of our parks. We have built a dog park since I’ve been here. We rebuilt Iroquois Avenue Park [in Selden] completely — the walking trail, everything is getting redone.

I grew up less than a mile from the Centereach Pool Complex. When I was a little kid, I would go up and play basketball. When I got elected, the backboards at Centereach Pool were rusted out and the ground was broken up on the basketball courts. It had been just horrendous. Since I’ve been in office, we’ve redone the basketball courts. We’re the first facility to have pickleball, we’ve built sun shelters, we’ve rebuilt the bathrooms and redone the walking trail.

Can you describe the mentorship of Tom Muratore and his influence on you now?

Tom was an unbelievable guy. We were a good team. He was the vice president of the [Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association] before he became a legislator. He was a soft-spoken guy, wasn’t the kind who was flashy or who would always jump to the mic. That wasn’t Tom.

Tom was a guy who liked to work with people and had the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever known in politics. He just cared for everybody, didn’t need to get credit for things, just wanted to make the community a better place.

He hired me when I was young and aggressive, bouncing off the walls with a lot of energy. And he was a great mentor because he would look at me sometimes and just say, “Kevin, we can pass it today and just push it through, or we can pass it tomorrow with everybody’s consensus.” Or say, “Let’s take our time and get everybody on board.”

I’m an aggressive guy. I like to keep moving and get things going. Tom kind of put the brakes on me. He taught me to take a little extra time to build that extra consensus, making sure everybody’s on board. There were just so many different lessons that I learned from him.

Next year, when we open up [the Selden Park Complex], it will be weird not to have him here. But I know he’s looking down with a big smile on his face, and he’s glad we’re going to finish this out for the community. Something we started together.

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Kings Park’s downtown district, above during Summer Nights in the Park: Monday on Main last July, will soon see the addition of sewers. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Raymond Janis

Attorneys representing the Kings Park Community Association and the Long Island Pine Barrens Society have filed a $198 million lawsuit against Suffolk County over a sewer fund they claim was unlawfully depleted.

The Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund was originated as part of the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program, which was established in 1987. The program addressed ballooning sewer rates and volatility across sewer districts using a 0.25% sales tax to subsidize ratepayers and cap rate increases at 3%. After a 2020 voter referendum, the county reformulated the rate structure in Suffolk County Sewer District #6 – Kings Park, increasing rates by 452%, according to Michael Rosato, president of the community association.

In explanation, Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration, said in a phone interview, “The prior rate structure was inequitable and would have disadvantaged residential property owners in the sewer district. The changes rectified that and made sure sewer ratepayers generating significantly more sewage paid their fair share.”

In a letter sent to Sewer District #6 homeowners Dec. 7, 2020, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) had justified raising sewer rates to mitigate wide discrepancies in operating costs across Suffolk.

“Property owners in the district have been undercharged for years, and revenues collected do not come close to covering operating expenses,” Bellone said in the letter. “The average Suffolk County sewer ratepayer paid $585 in sewer charges this year,” adding, “By comparison, the average homeowner in Sewer District #6 was billed $78.74.”

Rosato, who is also a part-time aide in the office of county Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), claimed Bellone illegally raised rates in Sewer District #6 beyond the 3% threshold, violating the terms of the program.

“In 2020 Bellone put a very misleading referendum on the ballot that he felt allowed him not to pay that fund back and to continue taking money out of it to pay for operating expenses,” Rosato said in a phone interview. “After raiding $198 million out of the fund, he raised Kings Park sewer rates 452%.”

The Pine Barrens Society is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit and has sued Suffolk County repeatedly since 2011 over this sewer fund. According to Rosato, the county demonstrates a pattern of budgetary mismanagement, sewer fund meddling and legal stonewalling.

“In 2011, County Executive [Steve] Levy [D] took $29 million out of that sewer stabilization fund to cover budget holes,” Rosato said. “He was sued by the Pine Barrens Society and the Pine Barrens Society won that lawsuit. Bellone became county executive soon afterward and he subsequently took $171 million out of that fund for operating expenses.”

In the current lawsuit, the Pine Barrens Society challenges Proposition Two, which was the 2020 referendum that authorized the county to use the sewer fund to effectively avoid service cuts and layoffs. Paul Sabatino, co-counsel representing the Pine Barrens Society, said the referendum had no legal basis.

“Proposition Two, when you cut through all the smoke, does two things. It unilaterally repudiates the judgement for $29 million and it unilaterally repudiates the balance of the [$171 million] payment.” Sabatino said in a phone interview. “A county cannot pass a charter law that unilaterally reverses a judicial decree and it cannot adopt a charter law that unilaterally repudiates a settlement agreement. Whether you do it with or without the voters, there is no authority.”

Scully disagreed with this legal reasoning. He said the Pine Barrens Society insisted in prior litigation that voter approval is paramount but is now reversing course completely.

“What’s going on here, ironically, is that the Pine Barrens Society is taking the position that voter approval should be disregarded and that the voters’ approval of Proposition Two in 2020 should be overturned,” Scully said. “I’ve been involved in government for 37 years and this is probably the most bizarre lawsuit I’ve ever seen.”

County voters approved Proposition Two by a margin of 54% to 46%. However, county Legislator Trotta said voters did not understand the intent of the ballot measure.

“The law is very clear about how a referendum has to be put on the ballot,” he said in a phone interview. “It has to be clear and concise, but most people had no idea what they were voting for. Politicians pride themselves on using uninformed voters and manipulating them.”

Scully contended that Trotta and the Pine Barrens Society conducted a lengthy media campaign against Proposition Two in 2020, but voters approved the ballot measure anyway.

“In the weeks prior to the referendum, Legislator Trotta and others were very vocal in bringing their concerns to the attention of the public through the media,” Scully said. “The voters appeared to summarily reject those concerns. People seemed to understand clearly what they were voting on. They voted for financial stability and they spoke with a very clear voice.”

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a major initiative to bring sewers into downtown Kings Park. The sewer stabilization fund and the downtown extension are fiscally unrelated, sourced from separate revenue streams. Scully said that while construction can move forward as planned, the modified rate structure will impact the business district when the project is complete.

“The project can move forward but the rate structure continues to be at risk,” Scully said. “Had the Legislature not modified the rate structure, residential customers in the sewer district would end up in some instances paying higher rates than businesses that generate significantly more sewage.”

Trotta accused the administration of intentionally muddling these two distinct sewer issues to confuse community members and generate fear that the extension project may be derailed.

“They’re totally unrelated,” he said. “What this administration tries to do is tie them together to scare people. They use scare tactics.”

Acknowledging that the two issues remain separate for now, Sabatino implied that the legal principle at stake could affect the downtown sewer extension in the future.

“The legal principle of this lawsuit is important because if they believe they have the ability now to unilaterally evade the 3% cap for Kings Park, then what will stop them from doing that for the extension five years from now?” Sabatino said.

Sabatino argued that fixed-rate increases and rigid percentages were put in place to prevent county officials from depleting the fund at will. He said this lawsuit will determine whether or not those officials remain bound by these requirements.

“If you don’t tie up the hands of elected officials, over time when they see a large pot of money it’s going to be gone,” he said. “You have to tie their hands and do it in a way that is truly effective. It’s the law of political human nature.”

Scully said the Pine Barrens Society has lost credibility due to this lawsuit.

 

“It’s really kind of sad what has happened with regard to the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, which is no longer a credible voice for environmental protection in Suffolk County,” he said.

Town of Huntington Councilman Ed Smyth (R) will run for supervisor this November. Photo from Huntington Republican Committee

Last election cycle, former Town of Huntington Councilman Ed Smyth (R) decided to make a change. Instead of running for the seat he held for four years, he aimed for supervisor after Chad Lupinacci (R) decided not to run for reelection in 2021.

Smyth said being supervisor is slightly different from being a councilman. He said while as councilman he needed to read through agendas and weigh options, now he has to start the process earlier, taking into consideration more details in the process such as was there a bidding process or an RFP done.

“It’s your obligation to create most of the resolutions and agendas and know what’s going into them and understand why they’re being put on the timetable,” he said.

Smyth said Lupinacci leaves behind significant accomplishments while in office including resolving the LIPA lawsuit and enacting term limits. Smyth also complimented the former supervisor on how well he guided the community through the early stages of the pandemic and shutdowns, adding there was no playbook to follow.

“There were never any cuts to essential services in the town, and we never had to pierce the tax cap or anything like that,” he said.

Less than two weeks in office, Smyth said he has already had to tackle issues brought on by COVID-19.

“One of the first things we’re trying to do is put together a COVID policy that tracks more closely to the CDC policies or guidance without violating New York State’s regulations,” he said.

The town supervisor added that the council found that both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s policies weren’t coherent and sometimes the two policies were conflicting with each other, especially regarding how many days to isolate after being exposed to the virus with no symptoms. In the end, he feels a good policy was established for town employees which will be helpful in the future.,

He said the town’s Senior Center was already affected in the new year by COVID-related staffing shortages. The center was closed to the public the second week of January; however meals were able to be delivered to residents.

Smyth also is looking forward to working with the building department and implementing new systems. He said the town is fortunate to have new councilman Sal Ferro (R) who has been in the construction trade for decades and is CEO of Alure Home Improvements. Smyth also said a priority is supporting local businesses and attracting more to the area.

Infrastructure is also on his mind with a new sewer system in Huntington Station. At the end of the year, Lupinacci and County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced a partnership between the town and county, where both municipalities would invest $22 million to fund the Huntington Station Hub Sewer Project, which is the first one to be funded under Suffolk’s newly created Wastewater Infrastructure Fund. Money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act made the funding possible.

According to the town, approximately 229 parcels near Huntington’s Long Island Rail Road station and south along Route 110, as well as some commercial blocks of Depot Road and industrial land along the train tracks, will be connected to the sewer.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous economic benefit to Huntington Station over the next five to 10 years, simply because, as everywhere on Long Island, if you’re not on sewers, you’re frozen in time for development,” the town supervisor said. “If we can get those lines completed, up and running sooner rather than later, it’s going to bring a tremendous amount of capital investment into the Huntington Station area, plus the environmental benefits of doing it.”

When asked what advice he would give new council members Ferro and Dave Bennardo (R), Smyth said, “Stay grounded in the community and attend as many local events as you possibly can.”

He said there’s no substitute for attending events as it gives elected officials the opportunity to hear directly from constituents.

“I would say that’s how we find out about 90% of the issues that are going on in the town that somebody in the community proactively approaches one of our five Town Board members or somebody who works with the town: ‘Hey, listen, we have a problem over here.’ There’s a drainage problem or a loitering problem or there’s an abandoned house problem or there are cars parked here that haven’t moved in two years. Just all sorts of day-to-day quality of life issues.”

Smyth said he doesn’t have any issues with Councilman Eugene Cook (I) who ran against him for supervisor. He compared it to an NHL game, “where the fights are real but you leave it on the ice. You don’t take it to the locker room.”

He said they agree on 95% of issues that come before the town, and they “hit the reset button” when they saw each other two days after the election and have had no problems working together.

Now, Smyth has his mind on the town’s future.

“It’s my goal to make Huntington the economic epicenter of Long Island,” he said. “I think it’s going to take the infrastructure to do that, to build out our existing businesses and to attract new ones. I want, when Russell 2000 companies or even Fortune 500 companies are looking to relocate to the Northeast and they say, ‘Let’s go to Long Island,’ the first place they stop is Huntington.”

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. hosted a press conference at the comptroller’s office Feb. 11 saying the IRS has agreed with him about taxing recipients of septic system grants. Photo by David Luces

After nearly a year of waiting, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has ruled that Suffolk County homeowners should pay federal taxes on county grants that were used to upgrade septic systems. 

In a Jan. 15 letter from the IRS, the agency said the grants count as taxable income, regardless of whether homeowners received payments or not. 

Installation of the pre-treatment septic tank at the O’Dwyer’s home in Strong’s Neck. Photo from Tom O’Dwyer

The determination comes after Suffolk  County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) requested a private letter ruling on whether the grants should be counted as gross income. Beginning last year, Kennedy’s office sent 1099 forms to program participants, despite a legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel that advised that the tax forms go to the companies that received the funds, not the homeowners.   

At the time, the comptroller’s decision led to controversy and political fighting with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The executive’s administration has cited the prototype denitrifying septic systems as a key piece of fighting nitrogen overload in coastal waters. Kennedy and Bellone ran against each other for county executive later that year.  

Kennedy said at a Feb.11 press conference that the ruling has upheld their approach to issue tax forms from the very beginning. 

“They [the Bellone administration] have chosen to simply claim that I’ve made an effort to politicize this issue,” the comptroller said. 

He added that while his decision may “not be popular,” Kennedy blamed the tax issue on how the septic program was set up. 

“There may be ways to modify this program but it’s not up to me, it’s up to them,” he said. “We’ll continue to do the job we’re supposed to do.”

Peter Scully, deputy county executive, who heads the county’s water quality programs as the titular water czar, said Kennedy continues to simply play politics with the septic program. 

“This program is too important; we are going to find a solution — this will be a temporary disruption,” he said. “The fact that the comptroller is essentially celebrating the ruling speaks volumes about his motives.”

“We’ll continue to do the job we’re supposed to do.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

Scully noted that since the comptroller’s initial decision last year, they have altered application documents to make clear to applicants that the grants they were applying for could be subject to income tax. 

While some individuals have decided not to move forward with the program, homeowners are still applying for grants. In January alone 111 homeowners signed up, Scully added. 

Since the program’s inception in 2017, the county has disbursed 293 grants and expended $3 million. In addition, the county received $10 million in state funding for the septic system program.

The Bellone administration has said there are about 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county. Nitrogen pollution has caused harmful algae blooms and can negatively affect harbors and marshes that make areas more susceptible to storm surges as well. 

In a statement, Bellone continued to call Kennedy’s decision political. 

“The comptroller’s actions have been contrary to the intent of the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program, the legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel, and longstanding practices used by similar programs in Maryland and other municipal jurisdictions,” Bellone said. “He chose to politicize water quality and decimate a program that has been praised by environmental, labor, and business leaders alike … In the meantime, our water quality program is running full steam ahead.”

“This program is too important; we are going to find a solution — this will be a temporary disruption.”

— Peter Scully

The deputy executive said their main focus is protecting homeowners as they may now be exposed to new tax liability. They are also prepared to challenge the IRS ruling. 

Tom O’Dwyer, a Strong’s Neck resident and engineer, has enthusiastically installed one of these systems at his own home. He said while he was aware that the grants could be potentially taxable, he and others had been “optimistic” that they wouldn’t be required to pay taxes on the grants. 

“We got the 1099 in the mail the other day,” he said. “I have a lot of friends who also upgraded, nobody really expected this to happen … this is a blow to everyone.”

Despite the ruling, O’Dwyer still believes that he made the right choice in upgrading and thinks the septic program is still a good cost-effective option. He plans on talking to his tax adviser to discuss what his options are moving forward.  

The Strong’s Neck resident also acknowledged that the ruling could end up hurting the momentum of the program. 

“I think it could affect homeowners who want to voluntarily upgrade their system,” O’Dwyer said. “With the increased tax liability, they’ll have to pay more out of pocket and some might think it’s not worth it.” 

The county executive’s office has plans to work with federal representatives to reverse the IRS decision. They have already had discussions with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3), Scully said.

Suozzi has already sent a letter to IRS Commisioner Charles Rettig, saying he strongly opposes the decision and that it undermines the program’s mission.

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James in January. Photo by David Luces

By Cindy Smith

As a Smithtown native who mobilized my neighbors to study the Gyrodyne project and speak at the hearing, and having spoken myself, I am gratified at what was predominantly an open-minded reception. Clearly many residents had not been informed of the grossly negative impact that project might have, and why they should insist the Smithtown Planning Board ask more questions before rubber-stamping the proposal.

Cindy Smith. Photo by Jim Lennon

Based on research by dozens of concerned residents, including nationally known environmental advocates like Carl Safina, we testified to evident prior use of lead arsenate, methyl bromides and excessive nitrates at Flowerfield — a fact not mentioned in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). We documented how the Planning Board excluded data concerning traffic, provided evidence of potential harm to Stony Brook Harbor and surrounding waterways, and — disturbingly — rebuffed regional officials like Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) who sought to provide information about shared infrastructure and planned regional development.

We also presented economic evidence that many jobs potentially created by the development will produce low-paying, minimum-wage positions — and that the property might actually be removed from the tax base, causing it to shrink rather than grow.

Lastly, we shared our concern that the development will trigger more high-density use along historic 25A, creating more suburban sprawl.

As a descendant of Richard “Bull” Smith, I envision a shared North Shore future that values both our history and our tomorrows. I hope Smithtown residents will visit us online at www.UnitedCommunitiesAgainstGyrodune.com and at Facebook.com/UnitedCommunitiesAgainstGyrodyne.

The conversation is not over! The Planning Board will accept written comments through 5 p.m. Jan. 24. Residents should also communicate their concerns directly to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R).

Thank you, Smithtown, for welcoming your neighbors into the planning process. 

Cindy Smith

United Communities Against Gyrodyne Development community group