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Thatched Cottage

Stormwater runoff coming from Route 25A headed toward Mill Pond after a heavy rainfall. Photo by Rob Schwartz

Two Centerport civic groups will join together this weekend to protest against proposed developments they fear could negatively impact the environment if left unchecked. 

Centerport Harbor Civic Association will join with members of the Bald Eagles of Centerport, NY Facebook group to rally at the intersection of Route 25A and Little Neck Road Saturday, Feb. 9, from 10 to 11 a.m., to draw attention to the potential environmental and traffic impacts of several developments in progress. 

“No one is looking at the overall picture of the area,” Rob Schwartz, of Centerport, said. “There’s a large amount of construction and it’s a concern for the community.” 

Schwartz, founder of the Bald Eagles of Centerport Facebook group, said he’s seen firsthand stormwater runoff from Route 25A making its way into Mill Pond. He voiced concerns over whether the property owners of Water’s Edge, formerly The Thatched Cottage, are following all necessary precautions to ensure materials from the construction do not wind up in water. He fears if pollutants make their way into the harbor, it could cause extensive harm or death to native fish and wildlife. 

A gap in the silt fencing by the site of the former Thatched Cottage in January. Photo by Rob Schwartz

“They are not doing what they should be doing to protect the wetlands,” Schwartz said. “The pictures show that.” 

As a photographer, he’s posted numerous photos and videos via social media of rainbow-hued pools of water along Mill Pond’s banks alleging it’s a clear indicator of contamination. 

Enrico Scarda, managing partner of The Crest Group constructing Water’s Edge, said Centerport residents’ outcries of contamination are unfounded. 

“We have taken every safety precaution possible to not only safeguard the pond, but any impact our construction would have on the environment and its surrounding area,” he said. 

Scarda said his company, in full cooperation with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation guidelines, has sealed all manhole covers on the property and installed silt fencing with hay bales in an effort to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the pond.  

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe,” he said.

The concerns of Centerport’s residents of the harbor’s contamination have not fallen on deaf ears. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office received a complaint Jan. 30 regarding Centerport Harbor, complaining of issues with ongoing construction at the former Thatched Cottage site, EPA spokesman David Kluesner said. Those complaints were forward to the Town of Huntington for further investigation. 

Lauren Lembo, spokeswoman for the Town of Huntington, said DEC staff and the harbormaster checked the site Jan. 24, shortly after a day-long downpour and found no signs of a spill. She said town employees later investigated the matter to find the silt curtain required along the bulkhead, while present, was improperly installed and immediate corrective action was taken. 

“Our building department has been made aware, and maritime services will continue to make routine inspections regarding stormwater control measures and any improper discharges into Mill Pond,” Lembo said. 

Suffolk County’s Division of Environmental Quality routinely tests the water quality of the pond, as part of the Huntington-Northport Harbor complex, on a bimonthly basis, according to spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern. 

Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he’s had several constituents reach out to him with concerns over the former Thatched Cottage property and runoff into Mill Pond, and has requested that the county takes additional water samples. 

“I want to make sure we are addressing true concerns and not getting into rumors,” Spencer said. “It’s near the water and there’s construction going on. Are there pollution concerns? It’s reasonable.” 

“It’s the waterfront location that we are attracted to, we want to make sure it stays safe.”

— Enrico Scarda

Employees of Suffolk’s Division of Environmental Quality visited the site Feb. 1, Kelly-McGovern said, to collect water samples from Mill Pond directly behind the former Thatched Cottage. The water will be analyzed by the county’s Public & Environmental Health Laboratory for a number of chemicals and contaminants including pesticides, metals including lead, fecal coliform bacteria, inorganic compounds, nitrogen and phosphorus. The results may take up to six weeks. 

Kelly-McGovern said the “rainbow opalescence” seen by Centerport residents in the photos can be produced by microbes as a result of breaking down organic matter such as fish, leaves and plants. 

“It’s a relatively common wetland phenomenon,” she said. 

Schwartz said he and others would still like to see additional environmental protection measures, such as a floating boom to limit the spread of any possible debris or floating contaminates. 

In addition to the environmental concerns, Tom Knight of Centerport Harbor Civic Association said the rally will voice opposition to the proposed 7-Eleven he fears will create significantly more traffic on the corner of Route 25A and Little Neck Road. The intersection is a steep angle and prone to causing accidents, Knight said. 

The proposed 7-Eleven is currently in the process of a drafting an environmental impact statement, which has yet to be completed and submitted to the Town of Huntington. 

“I can’t stop progress, but I can ask them to make it safe,” Schwartz said. “I’ve lived here for 30 years, I love this town, and I don’t want to see it ruined.” 

The Thatched Cottage as it appeared circa July 2012. Photo from Facebook

The former owner of a once-popular Centerport restaurant admitted to forcing immigrants to work at his establishment.

Huntington resident Ralph Colamussi, former owner of the Thatched Cottage and Jellyfish Grill, pled guilty Sept. 26 before U.S. District Judge Denis Hurley in Central Islip federal court to charges of forced labor of employees. He faces up to 20 years in prison, as well as restitution to his victims and a fine of up to $250,000.

East Northport resident Ralph Colamussi was arrested Dec. 11 on charges of allegedly exploiting immigrant workers at his Centerport restaurant. File photo

In December 2017, Colamussi was arrested alongside his former restaurant manager Roberto Villanueva on charges of conspiring to engage in forced labor of immigrants, visa fraud and fraud in foreign labor contracting.

In entering his guilty plea, Colamussi admitted to bringing prospective workers from the Philippines to the United States on H-2B visas that expired shortly after their arrival here. Once the visas expired, the former restaurant owner admitted to encouraging workers to apply for student visas by fraudulently representing they intended to attend school full time and had the resources to do so. Colamussi admitted at times he would deposit funds in the workers’ bank accounts to ensure the appearance of ample financial resources to attend school and then would withdraw the funds once a student visa was approved.

“This case is an example of ruthless labor trafficking hiding in plain sight,” said Angel Melendez, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations special agent-in-charge at the time of Colamussi’s arrest. “These individuals allegedly committed visa fraud while forcing people to work in their catering hall under horrible conditions in what seemed to be an inescapable situation.”

The restauranteur also admitted when immigrant workers objected to performing certain jobs, such as working consecutive shifts or not being paid promptly, he threatened to report them to immigration. In the original indictment, federal prosecutors said Colamussi threatened his employees with physical violence and deportation. In one instance, Colamussi allegedly asked a worker to assist him in burning down the Thatched Cottage, and then threatened the worker with a knife for refusing to aid him.

This is not the first time Colamussi has faced legal issues over his operation and management of the former Centerport restaurant. Colamussi filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the Thatched Cottage in January 2014, after which the restaurant was sold at auction for $4.65 million in September 2014. Lawsuits followed as December 2015 court documents claimed he transferred funds to Jellyfish Restaurant, and he was ordered by the judge to pay restitution.