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Sound Beach

Rocky Point resident Maryann Horton picks out fruit at the Stop & Shop on 25A in Rocky Point's grand opening Sept. 29. Photo by Kevin Redding

A new Stop & Shop on Route 25A in Rocky Point officially opened its doors to the public Sept. 29, offering its customers an expansive selection of organic and natural foods, fresh meats and locally-sourced produce, as well as the company’s only fresh herb garden and its largest deli department in the region.

The 58,000 square foot store replaces the former Super Foodtown and stands as the second Stop & Shop in the immediate area, with a location down 25A in Miller Place. It has created 20 new jobs for Suffolk County residents, while keeping 99 percent of Foodtown’s associates employed.

The new Stop & Shop in Rocky Point is located at 277 Route 25A, which was previously Super Foodtown. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We’re trying to give the customers absolutely everything,” said Bob Harman, the director of deli and bakery. “We’ve gone above and beyond to try to make this the best offering for them, and we’re trying to make the old Foodtown customer happy as well as any Stop & Shop customer — just trying to blend the best of both worlds to make everyone happy.”

Kelly Scott, of Ridge, said she’s happy to have a new Stop & Shop close by.

“It was definitely needed here,” Scott said. “And it seems to have a lot more of a selection of everything. I’ll be coming back here all the time.”

Monica Stone, from Mount Sinai, called Stop & Shop her supermarket of choice and said she understands why a second location was put on 25A.

“I’ve always shopped at the Miller Place one, but it’s always crazy in there,” Stone said, referring to that location’s crowds and it being under-stocked as a result. “This one is well-stocked and everything’s new and it looks great. I’m glad they handed out aisle guides because items aren’t exactly in the same places as in Miller Place, but it’s very nice overall.”

“When you only have one store, you have one choice. I don’t like when there are two next to each other because then they’re the only game in town.”

—William Pellenz

Manager Paul Gallo pointed out the “bigger and better” aspects of the store, including the organic herb garden.

“We’re here for the community ,and this is one of our bigger facilities where the customer can really shop more freely,” Gallo said.

The store has an all-new layout with wider aisles and selection. The deli department offers customers the same Boar’s Head sandwiches and grab-and-go coldcut offerings, but also boasts a new slider program and slab bacon.

There is a variety of fresh sushi available in the prepared food department and even fresh-fried tortilla chips. The bakery section is not only stocked with store-made cakes, but local Long Island pies and shelves of gluten-free, sugar-free and peanut-free treats.

Customers will also experience all-natural seafood, like shrimp, scallop, smoked salmon and crawfish pulled straight the Great South Bay.

“You name it, we have it,” said Al Apuzzo, director of meat and seafood.

Rocky Point resident Kathy Gallup said she feels good about what the store has to offer.

“I like to eat organic food and it definitely offers more of that than Foodtown,” she said.

The Stop & Shop on 25A in Rocky Point boasts the only local, fresh her garden. Photo by Kevin Redding

But Rocky Point’s Susie Capell said she’s going to miss Foodtown.

“I loved Foodtown,” she said. “I liked the setup and the sales were good.”

But Capell also understands why what Stop & Shop has its benefits to the community.

“For my nephew, gluten-free is a big deal,” she said. “My sister only goes to Stop & Shop for that reason. She’s thrilled, I know that.”

William Pellenz, of Sound Beach, raised concern over this one being so close to the one down the road.

“That doesn’t give you any choices,” he said. “When you only have one store, you have one choice. I don’t like when there are two next to each other because then they’re the only game in town.”

But Maryann Horton was all smiles while she picked out fresh fruit.

“I love it,” the Rocky Point resident said of the new store. “We always went down to the other one and we just love the store. Now that Stop & Shop’s here, I’m very happy.”

Blueprints would mirror design for similar housing in Rocky Point

Mark Baisch discusses his proposal for senior homes in Miller Place at the July 10 Sound Beach Civic Association meeting. Photo by Ginny Drews

Low-cost, community-based apartments for seniors may be heading to Miller Place.

During a July 10 Sound Beach Civic Association meeting, Mark Baisch, owner of the Rocky Point-based development company Landmark Properties Ltd., proposed 44 600-square-feet, one bedroom apartment units be built as a cul-de-sac on the northwest corner of Sylvan Avenue and Echo Avenue.

The plan is for the senior-exclusive apartment complex, temporarily named Echo Run, to be developed on half of the heavily wooded 3.7-acre site, while the other half would remain in its natural state.

According to Baisch’s proposal, all four units in each of the 11 buildings would have a high Energy Star rating with geothermal heating and cooling systems. Rent is expected to be between $1,000 and $1,400 per month.

It’s kind of lifting a weight off their shoulders because now, this whole homeownership responsibility at 75 years old goes away.”

— Mark Baisch

He said the project aims to provide older residents a new, much-needed living option.

“There’s a huge demand for reasonably priced apartments for seniors who have lived here for a significant portion of their life because for them, there is no place to go,” Baisch said of his plan, which targets senior citizens burdened with paying high taxes to live in homes or basement apartments they might not need anymore. “It’s kind of lifting a weight off their shoulders because now, this whole homeownership responsibility at 75 years old goes away and you end up living the rest of your life without that worry.”

He said senior citizens would not have to worry about upkeep and maintenance around their yard and home while in the complex.

“Here’s what would be a bunch of accessory apartments all in an area where everybody’s in the same boat — they can all support one another and that’s the way it really should be,” Baisch said. “The psychological benefit alone probably exceeds the housing benefit.”

Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto, 70, said she’s ready to sign up.

“I can envision myself living there,” Ruberto said. “As baby boomers, we’re getting to the age where we want to live somewhere like that and we have very few rental apartments in the area. More senior rental is definitely needed.”

Ruberto said the proposal was well-received by other civic board members, especially Baisch’s idea to give each building in the complex a different color and design so it better fits the look of the community.

“I can envision myself living there. … More senior rental is definitely needed.”

— Bea Ruberto

The Miller Place proposal mirrors Baisch’s On the Commons apartment complex in development in Rocky Point on the site of the old Thurber Lumber Co. Inc. He said Miller Place and Sound Beach residents requested to be placed on the Rocky Point housing list, prompting him to add a second location.

Like On the Commons, Echo Run plans to reserve a significant percentage of its homes for United States military veterans. The minimum percentage for veterans in Miller Place would be 10 percent, Baisch said, but that number may be adjusted pending an upcoming meeting with Joe Cognitore, commander of Rocky Point Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 6249.

Mary McDonald, 66, who has lived in Miller Place for 32 years, is pleased the proposal is pushing for residential development as opposed to commercial.

“Affordable housing for seniors is something that’s going to be needed all through Suffolk County, because taxes are so high seniors have to leave,” she said. “I’m getting to that point myself.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said she has already received positive feedback from seniors.

“Several residents have reached out to me and are very excited for it,” Bonner said.

Baisch has discussed the estimated two-year plan with the president of the Miller Place Civic Association and members of Brookhaven Town, and will be meeting with the Mount Sinai Civic Association in the near future.

“I know this will be a homerun in Miller Place,” he said, “just like it’s a homerun in Rocky Point.”

Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro and Councilwoman Jane Bonner inspect the Sound Beach shoreline stabilization project. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Sound Beach’s shoreline is now stabilized.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy changed the typography of much of the North Shore’s beaches and dunes. In Sound Beach, the bluff at Shore Road and Amagansett Drive became severely eroded. With roads and homes at risk, the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department began a four-year, multiphase $1.3 million project in May 2013 to steady it.

“The hardening of our infrastructure leaves us less vulnerable to damage from future storms,” Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said. “In the long run, the results of this project will save taxpayer dollars due to fewer erosion costs in the area.”

To stabilize the bluff, almost 2,000 cubic yards of clean fill was added and an outfall pipe replaced, which broke during Hurricane Sandy. The work was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and $233,651 in federal assistance was received to help with the cost of the project.

The work on the bluff and the repair of the pipe were never meant to complete the project, but, according to Losquadro, was just a first phase.

“In the long run, the results of this project will save taxpayer dollars due to fewer erosion costs in the area.”

— Dan Losquadro

“It was just a temporary ‘Band-Aid’ so the bluff wouldn’t erode any further and jeopardize the structural integrity of the drainage pipe,” he said. “Our ultimate goal was to eliminate the outfall over the bluff completely, abandon the drainage pipe and direct all of the water from this stream into a newly constructed recharge basin to the east of Amagansett Drive.”

He said the project offered the town the rare ability to eliminate an outfall pipe, preventing stormwater runoff from flooding the beach and entering the Long Island Sound, while also taking erosion pressure off the face of the bluff.

Once construction of the recharge basin near the intersection of Amagansett Drive and Shore Drive was completed in 2015, the final phase of the project began, which included the abandonment of the pipe and permanent stabilization of the bluff through the installation of a three- to four-ton armoring stone revetment wall, erosion control matting, wood terracing and native plantings. The project also included the installation of a new staircase from Shore Drive.

“As a town, we need to make sure there is reliable access that will be there season after season for our fire department and police in the event of an emergency,” Losquadro said.

This phase was completed with in-house resources and came in under budget.

Although the temporary stabilization of the bluff received funding from FEMA, the storm hardening and total bluff restoration was paid for through town capital funds. The total cost for Phase II — construction of the recharge basin — was $633,333 and for Phase III — storm hardening and bluff restoration — was $450,000.

“Completion of this project on time and under budget after being stalled by [Hurricane] Sandy is a welcome event to the residents of Sound Beach,” Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “The bluffs along the North Shore are especially vulnerable to erosion, but the more we can do to stabilize our shoreline, the safer it will be.”

File photo

Kenneth Pellegrino was arrested after drugs, fireworks and weapons were seized from his Sound Beach home, following a search warrant executed by Suffolk County Police.

During the May 3 search, $7,000 worth of fireworks, 110 grams of heroin worth about $26,000, 75 grams of crack/cocaine worth approximately $4,500, 33 grams of marijuana and more than $1,800 in cash were found. A shotgun, digital scales, cell phones and drug packaging material were also seized.

Pellegrino, 42, was charged with three counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, unlawfully dealing in fireworks and unlawfully storing fireworks.

“This is part of our enhanced narcotics strategy where we are cracking down on drug dealing in our communities,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “What’s important to note about this search warrant is that it began with calls to our 631-852-NARC line. We were able to get drugs off the street and a shotgun off the street that belonged to a drug dealer, and we were able to do that because of the assistance of the residents of Suffolk County.”

Pellegrino will be held overnight at the Seventh Precinct for arraignment at 1st District Court in Central Islip.

The 10-mile route that the Port Jefferson Station to Wading River Rails to Trails project will take. Image from Legislator Anker's office

As hundreds packed the auditoriums of Shoreham-Wading River and Miller Place high schools the same sentiment reverberated off the walls — there’s not only a want, but a need for a safe place for children to ride their bikes.

After the deaths of two local children, the desire for the Rails to Trails project to push forward was prevalent among the Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, Shoreham and Wading River residents who live along the proposed 10-mile trail.

“I don’t know if this trail is going to move forward 100 percent, but so far it’s picking up momentum,” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said to the March 29 group in Shoreham. “We need the ability to ride bikes in a safe place, the ability to take a walk or push a baby carriage in a safe place.”

Residents listen to questions and answers during the meeting at Shorheam-Wading River High School. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The legislator, who is propelling the project, brought members the Suffolk County Department of Works and engineering company NV5 to her first general meeting to gather public input and answer questions.

“I need to hear what you want, because I’m here to make it happen,” Anker said.

Steve Normandy, project manager with NV5, discussed the flat surface and location being conducive to a trail.

“There’s over 1,600 rail trails nationwide over 20,000 miles,” he said. “They’re good for biking, hiking, walking, safe travel to school, and studies have shown businesses thrive and home values increase, it improves air quality and enhances sense of community.”

On March 28, the county Legislature unanimously approved a negative New York State Environmental Quality Review Act determination for the proposed 10-foot-wide trail, which would be opened from dawn to dusk. The adoption of negative SEQRA determination means that there is no anticipated environmental impact for the project.

The path will have paver markings and mile-markers for county miles, as well as emergency services to locate those in need. It will also meet Americans with Disabilities Act slope requirements. The design report was submitted to the state Department of Transportation in February. If design approval is received this summer, final design plans will be prepared in the next year in the hopes of received final design plan approval from the NYSDOT in winter 2018.

Currently, the plan is that construction will begin in spring 2019, for a fall 2020 finish.

“We’ve met with quite a few partners and discussed a bunch of different aspects of maintenance, but the biggest issue we anticipate is really going to be cutting the grass,” said county Department of Public Works chief engineer, Bill Hillman. “We’ll be asking the community for help, to pitch in with a lot of the different maintenance aspects.”

The hope is that a not-for-profit like the Friends of Greenway, which maintains the Setauket to Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, will form to beautify and preserve the attraction.

Kaitlin Brown, who moved to Wading River five years ago, said she entered the area because she loved the trees.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker responds to questions from the audience. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I want to pledge my support because I think it’s a wonderful component that our community doesn’t have, and it needs,” she said, adding she is willing to help mow and maintain the piece of property, which is owned by LIPA. “I found my house on the map, and it looks like one day when I have kids, they’ll be able to get from our house through back roads to the trail, and then take the trail to the high school.”

Judy Black, who has lived in the area for 47 years, said she’s been hoping the trail would become a reality from day one, back in 2001 before plans derailed, and again in 2011 when Anker tried to revive the idea.

“I so hope we can come together and make this happen,” she said. “With a son that rode his bicycle all over the place I was always worried about him.”

She explained how she once saw a cyclist fall on North Country Road trying to maneuver around a construction sign. She was in need of medical attention, and when examiners arrived, they asked her why she was riding along a major road.

“But where else do you ride your bike?” Black said. “We need a safe place to ride, to walk with friends, to expand our community connection, and I’m so for it.”

The ideas weren’t without opposition.

There were some like 10-year Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz, who said she’s felt like she’s been kept in the dark.

“I’m not in favor of this at all,” she said, although adding she would probably be in favor of Rails to Trials if she didn’t live near it.“This is in my backyard 24/7; you come for an hour-and-a-half walk and then you leave. I’m here all the time.”

Some of her concerns included if the trail will take property from homeowners, if cesspools will be affected and what issues her dogs barking toward the trail could bring.

Hillman and Anker reassured her that she will not be losing property, and cesspools will not be affected. As for dogs barking and noise ordinances, Hillman said it’s an issue Gladysz would have to take up with Brookhaven Town.

The trial currently doesn’t have any guardrails, fences, beautification elements, toilets or lights budgeted into the $8 million plan.

Those who would like to see where the trail will be located in relation to their homes could view individual hamlet maps during the meeting. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Anker said she is working on a plan to protect privacy along the path, and said Eagle and Girl Scouts typically do beautification projects, which could include adding benches and other useful things along the trail.

Others still worried about safety and other crime-related issues, were soothed by Sgt. Walter Langdon of the Suffolk County Police Department, and 7th Precinct COPE officer Mike Casper, who said there has been “little to no crime” at Setauket-Port Jefferson Greenway Trail, but added that there will still be a police presence along the path.

By the end of the first meeting, those like Rocky Point resident Cory Fitzgerald were heard loudest, and supported by other community members for their opinion of the trail.

Fitzgerald has daughters aged 8 and 6, and both love riding their bikes.

“We take trips to Cape Cod every summer and the rail trail up in Cape Cod is phenomenal,” he said. “My girls ride their bikes more in that one week than during the entire year in Rocky Point. The roads in Rocky Point are very narrow and hilly, so I want to give my girls that opportunity to ride whenever they want. We’ve been waiting for so long — I’ve been told this was coming and I’ve been so excited and the girls really want this to happen. It’s going to be great for our community.”

Residents in favor of the trail, which some like Wading River resident Bruce Kagan are naming the “Tesla Trail,” because it will lead to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham, were unanimous on the biggest topic of discussion: kids.

“This is the most deadly county for injuries and deaths for pedestrians and cyclists,” Kagan said. “There’s no place for our kids. Let us do this for our children and our children’s children.”

A map of the Rails to Trails project provided by the county’s Department of Public Works. Photo from Legislator Sarah Anker’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) will host two public information meetings to discuss the proposed design for the Port Jefferson-Wading River Rails to Trails project. The two dates for the public meetings are:

•March 22 at 6 p.m. at Shoreham-Wading River High School, 250 Route 25A in Shoreham.

•April 5 at 6 p.m. at Miller Place High School, 15 Memorial Drive in Miller Place

The proposed trail, a project that was spearheaded by Anker, is a 10-mile-long shared-use recreational path.

The path will be built along the abandoned Long Island Rail Road right-of-way, which currently is owned by the Long Island Power Authority. The trail will run through the hamlets of Port Jefferson Station, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point, Shoreham, East Shoreham and Wading River.

These meetings will give residents an opportunity to hear from the Suffolk County Department of Public Works regarding the plan for design and construction of the trail. For more information, contact Anker’s office at 631-854-1600.

Echo Avenue. File photo

Suffolk County Police arrested two adults for hosting a party at their Sound Beach residence Feb. 11 after a teenager needed medical attention.

Seventh Precinct Patrol officers responded to a call from a parking lot across from 271 Echo Ave., at approximately 10:55 p.m., after a teenage girl became ill from alcohol consumption. The girl was coming from a party. When police arrived, there were more than 100 underage teenagers spilling out into the street. Alcohol was at the party.

The girl was transported to a local hospital for treatment.

Police arrested and charged the hosts, Charles Suomi, 40, and Farnelle Marseille 35, with violating the social host law. Both were issued field appearance tickets and released. They are scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip on April 12.

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One of the four remaining cottages at West Meadow Beach has a collapsed roof and is a virtual zombie house, orphaned by a lack of interest. Photo by Pam Botway

After demolition of the 52nd zombie house by the Town of Brookhaven in Sound Beach last month, the town had fulfilled Supervisor Ed Romaine’s (R) mission to tear down one home a week in 2016. But there are other eyesores that have yet to be addressed.

While abandoned houses in the community are eligible for demolition, the Town had taken no action to prevent Town-owned cottages at West Meadow Beach from deteriorating.

Under legislation sponsored by state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and former state Senator James Lack (R), which was signed into law in 1996, Brookhaven Town officials had agreed to maintain responsibility for the preservation of the beach and the four cottages designated to be used for security or educational uses..

Following a Nov. 24 article in the Village Times Herald titled, “A look at West Meadow Beach — 12 years post-cottages,” East Setauket resident and community activist Pam Botway wrote a letter to the newspaper asking about the condition of the remaining cottages at West Meadow Beach.

“I inquired with the town after noticing the roof caved in on one of the cottages,” she said. “It seems there is a lease agreement between the Three Village Community Trust and the town, in place since 2010. [I’m wondering] why have the cottages turned into zombie houses in the past six years when there is $1.45 million in the bank to maintain them?”

Botway said the Town claimed it has no access to the trust’s funds to make necessary repairs.

While the Town had a five-year license agreement with Three Village Community Trust for the Gamecock Cottage, which commenced in 2010, Town public information officer Jack Krieger said there are no leases for the other cottages.

The endowment fund created by the legislation currently contains $1.45 million, according to the Department of Finance, but only the interest accrued may be used for the property’s upkeep. At today’s rates, interest on the account generates about $2,000 a year, not nearly enough to achieve proper maintenance.

In an interview conducted in November, Englebright theorized that after the Stony Brook Community Fund became The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, and the new entity declined to handle responsibilities spelled out in the legislation, that left the endowment an orphan. As there was no one to oversee the proper application of the account’s interest, the cottages have been neglected.

Until such time as the endowment is actively managed, and some person or group is keeping track, things will remain the same.

“It may be time for a public/private partnership vision to be pursued,” Englebright said. “A not-for-profit operating the Nature Center in conjunction with the Town [would be preferable to what exists now].”

This version was updated Jan. 26 to correct the featured photo.

Community responds to call for help following car crash involving a volunteer fireman

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. is a volunteer fireman for the Sound Beach Fire Department. Photo by Stefanie Handshaw

By Kevin Redding

Friends, family and community members did their own quick responding for a beloved Sound Beach firefighter who suffered serious injuries in a recent car crash.

A GoFundMe page to support Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. was set up Dec. 23, one day after the 24-year-old volunteer was rushed to Stony Brook University Hospital following a collision with another vehicle on Route 25A and Harrison Ave. in MIller Place at 5 p.m.

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr.’s car following his crash on Route 25A Dec. 22. Photo from Sound Beach Fire Department

According to those close to him, McLoughlin Jr. was pulling into a lot to get a haircut when a driver ran a red light and broadsided his vehicle.

The online fundraiser hit its goal of $15,000 after just two days, and within 10, the fund exceeded the goal with $19,664. So far 350 people have donated, with individual contributions ranging from $5 to as much as $1,000.

The accident left McLoughlin Jr. with two broken vertebrae, and since he’ll be out of work for a minimum of three months, the money raised will go toward the surgery he needed to fuse part of his spine, future medical and rehabilitation costs and the eventual replacement of his totaled vehicle.

The Sound Beach native recently graduated from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut with a communications degree and has been juggling a second part-time job as a freelance cameraman for Fox 5 NY.

Sound Beach Fire Department Chief Thomas Sternberg spearheaded the campaign on behalf of the district, with the hope of giving back to someone he considers “a very dedicated man to the department and the community.”

“I was amazed at how many people stepped up to help him out … we’re very appreciative of anyone who has donated,” he said. “Jimmy has always been there when you need him. He’s always willing to train, always willing to help anybody.”

Sound Beach Captain Darran Handshaw, who compiled the GoFundMe page, said the speedy outpouring and money raised is a testament to McLoughlin Jr.’s character.

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. holding his Firefighter of the Year award with Sound Beach Fire Department Chief Thomas Sternberg. Photo from Sound Beach Fire Department

“He’s done so much for the community and he’s just an all around great guy,” Handshaw said. “He’s always a reliable firefighter, always on the first engine and somebody that I count on when I get into a fire.”

McLoughlin Jr. has a lifelong commitment to the fire department — in fact, it’s in his blood.

His father, James McLoughlin Sr., currently serves as fire commissioner for Sound Beach and was once the chief.

“When he was born, I was a fire chief,” his father said. “He was part of the department from the time he took his first breath, and there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t stop there for one reason for another. As long as he’s in town, he’s there.”

McLoughlin said it’s heartwarming to see all the support his son has in the community.

“He’s one of the go-to people when somebody needs help,” he said. “Ever since he was a child, Jimmy was very community-oriented.”

McLoughlin Jr. joined the junior fire company when he was 13 years old and served in it for five years while simultaneously climbing the ranks toward Eagle Scout. He graduated from Rocky Point High School in 2011 and on his 18th birthday, he joined the fire department and maintained his responsibilities there whenever he came home from college for summer and winter breaks.

“He got his fire academy training squeezed in while going to college; he just lives and breaths the fire service,” McLoughlin Sr. said. “Even people who went to school locally weren’t able to maintain their fire responsibilities and quotas, and he was able to do it while going to school out of state.”

As driver on one of the fire engines, McLoughlin Jr.’s responsibilities are to maintain the truck, make sure it’s in working order and train every individual that comes into the department. To this day, his father said, anyone who needs to learn how to drive or pump one of the engines, “they go to Jimmy to learn how to do it.”

Jimmy McLoughlin Jr. is a freelance cameraman for Fox 5 NY. Photo from Jimmy McLoughlin Jr.’s Facebook page

In 2014, McLoughlin Jr. was recognized for all his contributions and ability to balance his fire services and academics when he was chosen by the department as Firefighter of the Year, the fire department’s highest honor. He also received his engine company’s award the same year, which is given out by the fire department for demonstrating a certain level of skill performance and recognizes one’s ability to work within a team.

According to the GoFundMe page, he’s “performed so many heroic acts of kindness for the community.”

In 2015, he fought a large house fire inside a fellow firefighter’s family home. McLoughlin Jr. manned the hoseline, went inside the house and stopped the fire that had spread through the basement and most of the main floor.

Afterward, he filmed and produced a video with the family who lost almost everything in the fire in which they shared their experience with the community to teach key fire safety lessons. The video has since been seen all over the world and has been an integral part of Sound Beach’s fire prevention efforts.

According to his father, McLoughlin Jr. is out of surgery and resting at home. He has been able to walk and move around, but because of the procedure, he has to wear a collar support for the next six to eight weeks. He’s still in a lot of pain.

McLoughlin Jr. might have a long road to full rehabilitation ahead, but his usual spirit remains intact.

“He’s determined,” McLoughlin Sr. said. “He’s got a positive outlook … it’s not ‘am I gonna be on my feet?’ it’s ‘when I’m back on my feet.’”

Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore and developer and owner of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point Mark Baisch team up to build the homes for returning veterans. File photos

By Desirée Keegan

Receiving keys can be a magical moment for anyone, but for Joe Cognitore and Mark Baisch, they’re more excited about handing them over.

The Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 commander and the developer and owner of Landmark Properties, respectively, have been building and giving homes to veterans for the last four years. They’ve created 11 homes so far, and this year, the duo amped up the intensity to build three homes, with a fourth in the works.

For their work in the community and for dedicating their time and efforts to honoring and helping those who served our country, Cognitore and Baisch are Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

“It’s bittersweet,” Cognitore said. “There’s many candidates that we come across and every one of them deserves the home. Just to hear their stories is amazing.”

Veteran Deborah Bonacasa receives keys from Mark Baisch, developer and owner of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point, to her new home in Sound Beach. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Cognitore first met Baisch at a fundraiser Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) was hosting. Not knowing anyone at the event, the two found themselves sitting at the same table, and Cognitore began talking about the possibility of building a home for a disabled veteran.

“I thought it’d be one and done,” Baisch said, laughing, while thinking about the first home. “I never thought it would get to this level, but what we’re able to do for these families is so good that it would be hard for me to think about not doing this.”

The two recently unveiled the 11th home for returning veterans to the Cote family, who now own a home in Miller Place. The Bonacasas and Johnsons also received homes this year.

“I’m at a loss with words for everything they did for me and my family,” Deborah Bonacasa said. She is an Air Force veteran whose husband, Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa from Coram, died after a suicide bomber detonated himself outside Bagram Airfield in northwest Afghanistan. “They’re professional and thoughtful. I think it’s great what they’re doing for veterans and recognizing and advocating and stepping up to do things for those who do so much for our country. This house is, and they are, a constant reminder that there are great people still out there willing to help people.”

Rocky Point social studies teacher Rich Acritelli said no one cares more about veterans — and the entire hamlet — than Cognitore.

“He’s always got the community at his heart,” he said. “He personifies everything that a citizen should be, in terms of national and local service, between being in the military and always working for the betterment of his community.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) was proud to see how the two stepped up for the Cote family, who were kicked out of their home when the landlord let the Sound Beach property fall into foreclosure. The family has also struggled with illness. Mother Renée Cote has acute intermittent porphyria, a rare and painful metabolic disorder that requires expensive biweekly treatments, which she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. Her 7-year-old son, Zachary, was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, in June 2014, and endured 42 rounds of radiation and nine months of intense chemotherapy, until he was also diagnosed with acute intermittent porphyria.

Mark Baisch, at left sitting at table, has new homeowner Deborah Bonacasa, right, sign papers for her new home made possible by himself and VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore, standing on right. File photo from VFW Post 6249

“They are literally warriors to those that need help,” Anker said. “They get out there, they understand the struggles and they’re there to help, and that’s what’s so important. When Mark heard about Zachary Cote’s situation, he came to the rescue. Talk about superheroes, they are our local superheroes.”

Cote’s husband Glen was a U.S. Army combat medic in the Gulf War, before coming home and suffering an on-the-job injury that disabled him.

“Anyone that met them couldn’t believe what a great family,” Cognitore said. “Especially Zachary, what a little gentleman.”

But Renée Cote said she can’t believe what a great group Cognitore, Baisch and the rest of the developers and donators are.

“I could sit there and write a million thank you cards, and to me, it would not be enough for what they’re doing,” she said. “And I don’t even think they realize what they’re doing. To first serve our country, and then to give back — and I mean give back in a huge way — it’s good to be surrounded by people like that. They’re angels walking the Earth.”

Baisch said his contractors and the community showed more support for the Cotes’ new home in Miller Place than on any other house. There were over 30 volunteers, some of whom have been helping Baisch since the first home. Many of them donate windows, garage doors, bathtubs and furniture. Local supermarkets and civic associations also give gift cards to help the new family acclimate to the area.

“They just continue to give and give and give every time we do one of these homes, and they never let me down,” Baisch said of his contractors. “It’s really the only way these homes could come together. We’re not a charity; we consider these homes a hand up, not a hand out. They do the best they can and it’s amazing how much they keep giving. It shocks me after 11 houses that they’re like ‘Mark, let’s do more.’”

Cognitore said he enjoys creating a community of veterans.

“Once they get into these homes, they’re a great neighbor, a great citizen, they keep up their homes, they pay their taxes, so everything works out,” he said. “It’s a win for everybody.”

The veterans appreciate that as well.

The Cote family’s new home in Miller Place as part of the local homes for returning veterans program. File photo by Kevin Redding

“It makes me feel at home knowing there are veterans out there like me,” Bonacasa said. “If we ever needed each other, we’re right there.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said she’s thankful that most of the homes have been built in her district.

“It’s very heartwarming,” she said of the welcome-home ceremonies. “It’s impossible to not get choked up. Especially the most recent one with the Cote family — they’ve had some significant challenges. They were struggling, and Joe and Mark saved them.”

Baisch said that the real tragedy of it all is the fact that without his help, the families wouldn’t be able to remain on Long Island.

“They had no real chance of having a family here and living here if it weren’t for these homes, so that’s the all-encompassing enjoyment out of it,” he said. “These people would have been long gone, and they’re not the types of people we’d like to see leave Long Island. They served their country and they’re Long Islanders, each and every one of them. For them to have to leave because they can’t afford to live here, there’s something wrong with that.”

Bonner said what the “dynamic duo” does shows their true character.

“Mark is very altruistic, and he’s never looking for a pat on the back about it, he just feels passionately about it and does it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “And Joe is a tremendous advocate for veterans and a true Patriot. Their hearts are bigger than their wallets. It’s more about doing the right thing than it is about making money.”

Baisch said as long as Landmark Properties is around, he’ll continue to do something like this.

“It’s one of the best feelings of my life,” Baisch said. “I can’t explain it. I can’t come up with words enough to tell how wonderful it feels. The thought of not continuing doing this doesn’t even enter my mind.”