Tags Posts tagged with "Town of Brookhaven"

Town of Brookhaven

People rallied in Ridge June 25 to decry the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

New York State Route 25, known as Middle Country Road, which crosses through several hamlets in the center of Brookhaven Town, has long gone without fixes to its cracked pavement and massive potholes. Civics, town officials and some state officials said the New York State Department of Transportation has reneged on promises to finally repair the broken asphalt this year.

Gail Lynch-Bailey, the president of the Middle Island Civic Association, calls on New York DOT to pave Middle Country Road, though the DOT claims it never had such plans. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I have been at many meetings over the years to pave Middle Country Road, and last year they did promise us it would be done,” said town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point). “The issue has not been addressed for so long, this roadway now requires complete reconstruction. And you know why? Because cheap is expensive in the long run.” 

The road runs parallel to its sister highway Route 25A, which just recently received repaving in Rocky Point. Route 25, on the other hand, has received only minor patches in the past several years, officials said.

Town of Brookhaven officials said the state DOT had promised it would repave the section of road from Mount Sinai-Coram Road to Wading River Hollow Road in Calverton by July. However, officials said recent word from the state said it likely would not happen this year.

At a press conference held in Ridge June 25, state and town officials stood alongside local civic representatives and members of local fire departments calling for the road to be repaved.

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said the road’s uneven surface can make cars swerve and cause accidents. It also greatly impacts ambulance drivers who may be carrying injured people in the back of their vehicles.

“I have been here since 1991, and I haven’t seen it be repaved since then,” Keiser said. 

State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), whose district partially covers a section of the state highway, said he was copied in on an email with state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that the construction company wished to do the road in a different order, starting with a part of the road in Nassau. The DOT is repaving Route 25B in the Town of North Hempstead and Route 107 in Oyster Bay as part of the state’s repaving project.

“My office got a response from DOT that they’ve had more complaints over in that direction in Nassau,” he said. “The only reason the complaints stopped here, which were more voluminous than anything in Nassau, is because we were told the construction was coming.”

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said Route 25 has not been repaved as long as he’s been in the district, since 1991. Photo by Kyle Barr

The press conference also brought in a measure of politics, even more emphasized during an election year. No local Democratic elected officials were there at the press conference. Members of the Town Board and local state Assembly members criticized the governor for what they called a dismissive attitude to the plight of local infrastructure.

Palumbo also referenced several state officials in Nassau who are seeking reelection this year for why construction was starting on that side of the Island. Palumbo is the Republican candidate looking to take the state Senate District 1 seat once LaValle vacates it at the end of the year.

In a statement, LaValle said, “My office has worked closely with the civics and constituents for well over a year in an attempt to fix the safety issues along this stretch of Route 25. We were given a commitment by DOT that repair and paving would begin this summer and completed in the 2020 calendar year. It is unacceptable that the DOT would do an about-face and put this project off for a year, especially in light of the fact that emergency vehicles cannot safely travel this stretch of road and driver safety is a major concern.”

In response, Stephen Canzoneri, a DOT spokesperson, said the resurfacing project on Route 25 has always been the end of 2021, though there will be spot repairs on the highway for this year.

“The resurfacing of Route 25 was never anticipated to be completed this year,” he said. “In addition, the department plans to make temporary repairs to sections of Route 25 ahead of this winter.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said residents have been contacting her office for years about the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

However, that directly contradicts comments sent to local officials last year. New York State DOT sent a letter April 8, 2019, to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) which stated that the resurfacing project on Route 25 has been “accelerated to a bid opening in early 2020” with a going out to bid in March and a schedule to start construction in spring of 2020 for the described section of the highway. 

The letter was signed by DOT Regional Planning and Program Manager Glenn Murrell. Anker said in reaching out to DOT officials, there seems to have been a mix up on their end for why she and other officials were told it was in the pipe for 2020. She added this issue has been constantly on electives’ minds, with more than a few letters being sent to the DOT over the past several years. 

“I will continue to follow this intensely as this has been going on for a number of years,” she said. “Hopefully we can see the whole road done sometime soon.”

Ward Melville third baseman Brady Doran rips one deep. Baseball could be coming back this summer. Photo by Bill Landon

Beginning July 6, certain youth sports will be allowed to restart in regions of the state that are in Phase 3 of reopening. Long Island entered Phase 3 June 24. 

Baseball, softball, gymnastics, field hockey, cross country, soccer, noncontact lacrosse, doubles tennis, rafting, paintball, water polo and swimming will be allowed to begin games and competitions. 

Locally, a number of sports leagues have plans to resume play next month. Town of Brookhaven baseball is tentatively set to begin its summer season on July 13. 

“We are excited to announce that we are planning on beginning our summer season the week of July 13. The plan would include an abbreviated season, ending approximately Aug. 23 (including playoffs),” a statement on the town’s website reads. “We are extremely thrilled and fortunate to have the opportunity of having a summer season for the kids. Please understand that there will have to be some accommodations and sacrifices made by teams in order to get a legitimate summer season played.”

In addition, the 2020 Varsity Wood Bat Tournament in Brookhaven will run through July 8-12 at Moriches Complex. High school baseball teams from the North Shore will be participating in the competition including the Newfield Wolverines and Centereach Cougars (Middle Country), Northport Tigers, Ward Melville Patriots, Kings Park Kingsmen, Port Jefferson Royals, Miller Place Panthers and the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats.  

Social distancing will be enforced at all sporting events, and the state mandates the events limit spectators to two individuals per athlete.

The level of risk for each sport has been determined by the New York State Department of Health’s interim guidance for sports and recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“These guidelines apply to nonprofessional and noncollegiate sports and recreation activities (e.g. youth sports), inclusive of indoor and outdoor sports and recreation, as well as organized and nonorganized sports and recreation,” the document stated.

Sports that are deemed “high risk” will not be allowed to resume games July 6. Those include football, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby, basketball, contact lacrosse, volleyball, also competitive cheer and dance.

“Participants in higher risk sports and recreation activities may only partake in individual or distanced group training and organized no/low-contact group training,” according to the state’s guidelines.

National Night Out attendees in Brookhaven enjoy the Centreach Pool Complex. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) recent announcement that the state would allow public pools to reopen at the discretion of local municipalities was received as good news for residents in Suffolk County who rely on such facilities for recreational use and to cool off the summer heat. For local town governments, they will have to consider not only the safety of patrons but also whether they still have the resources in place to operate their pools. 

The Dix Hill pool could potentially reopen depending on a debate within the Town of Huntington. Photo from TOH

Two weeks ago, in a joint press release, town supervisors from Babylon, Brookhaven, Islip, Smithtown and Huntington said they would close their pools to avoid further potential coronavirus spread. 

Since then, at least two municipalities on the North Shore may be reconsidering their initial decision. 

Huntington spokesperson Lauren Lembo said in a statement that it is something the town “has been discussing after the successful reopening of the beaches.” At this time, the town hasn’t officially announced anything on pools reopening yet, but Lembo added that a safety plan and staffing resources are currently being assessed.

Huntington town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) also weighed in. 

“Based on the successful phased reopening of our beaches with new safety measures in place, we are more confident now that we can provide an equally safe and fun experience at the Dix Hills Pool this summer, which will be open for our summer camps,” he said in a statement. “We are considering plans to open the pool to residents only in the coming weeks.”

Brookhaven’s public pools will remain closed, according to town spokesperson Kevin Molloy. Though the town’s spray parks will reopen later this month. 

In Smithtown, spokesperson Nicole Garguilo said officials want to see the number of COVID-19 cases in the town continue to decrease before they make any potential decisions. 

“We want that metric to continue to go down —there is a lot involved in reopening our pools,” she said. “If it is safe enough, we would consider it.”

There are a number of issues they would have to address. Smithtown’s three public pools are all located at Smithtown Landing Country Club. 

Garguilo said in addition to implementing the proper safety precautions they would need to assess if they still have the available resources to operate all three pools. 

“For us, it’s making sure the recreation director has those resources, he has to go out and get 

lifeguards and pool operators to staff these pools,” she said. “We might have enough staff for only two pools.”

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, said municipalities will have to go about their reopenings differently. 

“Not all pools have the same footprint, some have more space than others,” she said. “To keep people safe, towns might go to reduced occupancy.”

Nachman said there is no evidence that COVID-19 can spread to people through the water used in pools. Proper operation and disinfection should kill the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Despite that, the infectious disease expert reiterated that patrons still need to proceed with caution. 

“If you’re with your family, stay together, spread yourself out from others and stay six feet apart. Do not crowd around the pool,” she said. “If you’re sick or feel sick do not come to a public pool.”

Nachman also mentioned that if you plan on bringing food to be careful, as it is another source of infection. 

“Everyone has to do their part, we are all part of community protection,” she said. 

Suffolk County legislature's online meeting May 19.

“Hello?” “Can you hear me?” “Would that person please mute their mic?” “We can hear your dog barking/child yelling/lawn mower going …” and on and on.

These are comments well known to anybody who’s been paying attention to government meetings, of municipalities large and small, in this time of pandemic. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order which temporarily nixed the requirements for local governments to hold in-person meetings, many organizations quickly had to come up with some sort of workaround to still hold their legally required meetings, though staying as socially distanced as possible while still remaining open for public view.

The Town of Brookhaven during its most recent online meeting.

Zoom meetings, YouTube Live video, these are the new tools for conducting government business, but not all are equal in just how “open” these meetings are.

New York Coalition for Open Government, a small nonprofit organization, known until recently as Buffalo Niagara Coalition for Open Government, came out with a report May 12 grading different levels of government on their transparency, with all meetings being held online. The New York State Committee on Open Government, which is run from Albany under the Department of State, has opined that governments would still have to host visible livestreamed meetings to conform to both the governor’s executive order and the current Open Meetings Law. Some governing bodies have interpreted the governor’s order to mean a body could meet without allowing public access. The coalition organization instead points to opinions by the committee and people from the governor’s office that says agencies and all local governments should allow access to livestreamed meetings.

Kristin O’Neill, assistant director for the state Committee on Open Government, said in a phone interview that local governing bodies “must afford remote access to the meeting while the meeting is going on.” This does not have to be a video livestream, but it must allow the public the ability to listen to that meeting. She said it is not enough to post a transcript or video after for the public to listen to or read.

The nonprofit’s report found only four of 21 governments surveyed from all of New York state had met all their criteria, including having all meetings livestreamed, having videos/audio posted online after the meeting and having all meeting documents posted online prior to the meeting.

The coalition included another metric though it’s not required by the Open Meetings Law, specifically asking whether a government was soliciting public comments that are heard and/or seen during the meeting.

The open government coalition president, Paul Wolf, an attorney in upstate New York, said he feels it’s important for local governments to be judged on their willingness to listen to the public, despite it not being required by law.

“All right, there’s a pandemic going on, but you” can still hear from the public and hear their concerns,” he said. “[We had] some pushback and controversy on grades, but you have to somehow rank people and and have some calculation who’s doing good.”

Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven were given “B” rankings by the committee, noting both were not addressing public comments in their meetings. As of their last meetings in May and early June, both town and the county board meetings still were not enabling public comment.

“It’s good to push for this stuff, and that seems to be one of few ways to get elected officials’ attention that seems to prompt some change,” Wolf said.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been difficult for local government to make the adjustment to online meetings. Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) said the governing body had to figure things out on the fly. The last time all legislators were together for in-person meetings was March 17. He added it took time to get proper guidance from the state regarding hosting meetings. So far during the pandemic, the legislature has only allowed comment during public hearings.

Town of Smithtown’s online meeting May 21.

Calarco said some legislators have made comments that current meetings have not been sufficiently open.

“I get that, and it is important for us to be transparent, but we have been trying to do it as effectively as we can,” he said. “For local government [having public comment] is an integral part of how our meetings operate — for residents to have ability to speak to us in public fashion.”

The next general meeting, June 9, will be the first time in two months the legislature will have a timeslot for public comment. People can visit the legislature’s website at scnylegislature.us and scroll down to the link for submitting public comment.

Brookhaven, on the other hand, is looking more toward a time when they can host in person meetings again, according to town spokesperson Kevin Molloy. He said Brookhaven has had to work through technical difficulties, but is complying with the law and the parameters of the governor’s executive order, adding there were no current plans to createa a public portion during online meetings.

The town allows for comment on public hearings, which can be submitted either in writing or with the person joining the town’s online meeting in video form. Molloy said the town has tried to push back non-time sensitive public hearings until later dates.

We’re certainly trying to improve it, that means improvements in technology and the board is always trying to improve access to public,” Molloy said.

Despite this, different levels of government, including school districts, have found varying levels of success keeping their meetings open and responsive to the public.

TBR News Media has run through all school districts, villages and towns in our coverage area to check if its meeting four simple criteria. The point is not to degrade some and promote others, but to offer a means of comparison and give examples for how they can improve their openness to the public. Because of this, we have eschewed a letter grading system for our local governing bodies.

Port Jefferson Village is allowing for public comment via chat on YouTube but, as it has done in the past, has only hosted public portions every other week. Though this may have worked until now, the circumstances of the pandemic mean it may be time to change that policy.

School districts were perhaps the most consistent among municipalities for providing documentation and at least some communication of meetings and inquiries from residents. The Comsewogue school district has hosted a bevy of online options for students and district residents, including a website dedicated to offering stress relief for students, multiple Zoom meetings directly with students and a video of the budget hearing. However, the district has not posted any of its online board meetings after the fact to its website.

Grading Criteria (according to New York Coalition for Open Government)

  • Are meetings being live streamed?
  • Are meeting videos/audio posted online after the meeting?
  • Are all meeting documents being posted online prior to the meeting?
  • While not required by the Open Meetings Law, are local governments soliciting public comments that are heard/seen during the meeting?

Suffolk County 3/4 (As of June 9, this changed to allow a public comment period)

Meetings are being livestreamed through county website

Meetings video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting documents available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Brookhaven 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed and can be accessed by cable Channel 18

Meetings video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting documents available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Smithtown 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meeting video/audio/documents available after meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

People are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Town of Huntington 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Video and documents are available after meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

Public are allowed public comment only during public hearings

Village of Shoreham 2/4

Meetings are held by Zoom with notifications sent to residents

Video/audio of meetings not available after meeting

Some documents are available before meetings, but agendas are not

Public can make comments during meetings

Village of Belle Terre 3/4

Meetings are held via Zoom with notifications sent to residents

Meetings video/audio is not readily available post meeting

Meeting documents are posted before meetings are held

Public is available to make comments during regular meetings

Village of Port Jefferson 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meetings videos/audio/agendas posted online

Meeting documents posted before meeting

Comments being posted through YouTube then addressed by board, but only every other meeting

Village of Old Field 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed with links sent to residents via Zoom

Meetings audio/video not posted online though minutes are

Meeting documents not posted before meetings

Trustee meetings regularly allow two public comment periods

Village of Poquott 3/4

Meetings can be accessed via dial-in code

Meeting video/audio of latest meetings not available

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Public is able to make comments during meetings

Village of Head of the Harbor 3/4

Residents can access meetings via links through notices

Meeting video/audio not available online

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Public is allowed comment during meeting

Village of Lake Grove 2/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meetings audio/video not posted online

Documents are posted prior to meetings

Could not determine if public can comment during meetings

Village of Nissequogue 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meeting video is available after meeting

Documents are not posted before meeting

People are allowed public comment during meeting

Village of the Branch 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meetings video/audio is not posted to the website after the meeting

Documents are posted to the website prior to meetings

People are allowed to comment during public portions of the meeting

Village of Asharoken 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Meeting minutes/agendas available after meeting

Meeting agendas are available after meeting but not video

Agenda available before meeting

Residents can ask questions prior to or during meeting

Village of Lloyd Harbor 4/4

Residents can listen in to meetings

Notices are present prior to meeting

Meeting agendas are available after meeting

Residents have been told they can comment during meeting

Village of Northport 4/4

Meetings are being held over teleconference call

Meeting audio not posted online after meeting

Agendas posted to website prior to meeting

Website says residents can ask questions of board via the web page

Shoreham-Wading River School District 4/4

Meetings are held publicly online via Zoom

Video of meeting posted after date held

Agendas are posted before meeting

Residents can comment during meetings

Rocky Point School District 2/4

Up until budget hearing, has not been having public board meetings online

Audio of meetings available on website

Board agendas posted prior to meeting

Public not able to comment on meetings up until budget hearing

Miller Place School District 3/4

Meetings held via Zoom

Video/audio of meetings not posted after meeting

Agendas posted prior to meetings

People may comment during meetings via chat

Mount Sinai School District 4/4

Meetings livestreamed via Zoom and on Facebook

Video of meeting posted afterward

Agendas posted prior to meetings

Questions from audience addressed during meeting

Port Jefferson School District 3/4

Meetings are being livestreamed

Meetings audio/visual/documentation available post meeting

Meeting agenda available before meeting

Public is not able to make comments during meetings

Comsewogue School District 2/4

Public has access to meetings via livestream

Meeting audio/video not available post meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

Questions are not being addressed at meetings

Middle Country School District 3/4

Meetings livestreamed from Google Meet

Meeting video is available post meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

The district has dispensed with public input

Three Village School District 3/4

Meetings are not being livestreamed

Meeting video available after meeting

Documents are available prior to meeting

Questions are not being addressed at meeting

Smithtown School District 4/4

All meetings are streamed live via Facebook

Videos available after meeting

Documents available before meeting via BoardDocs

Public can submit comments prior to meetings

Hauppauge School District 4/4

Videos streamed via Facebook Live

Videos available after meetings

Documents available on website

Residents can ask questions via Google Docs attached linked to the agenda

Commack School District 4/4

Meetings are publicly streamed through the district website

Meeting videos are available after meeting
Meetings documents are available prior to meeting via BoardDocs

Members of the district can ask questions via email,

Kings Park School District 4/4

Meetings are publicly available via Zoom

Meeting videos are available after meeting

Documents are available via BoardDocs

District allows for comments on call during prearranged comment period

Elwood School District 4/4

Meeting videos streamed live to YouTube

Meeting agendas available via BoardDocs

Videos are available after meetings

Questions are answered during latter section of meeting

Huntington School District 4/4

Meeting videos streamed live via Zoom call

Meeting video is available on the district website

Meeting agendas are available via BoardDocs

Residents can ask questions during Zoom meetings

Harborfields School District 4/4

The district livestreamed meetings via Vimeo

Agenda is available prior to meeting on district website

Video is available after the meeting dates

Residents can ask questions via email, and questions are answered at a determined time in the meeting

Northport-East Northport School District 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via IPCamLive

Videos are available after meetings

Agendas are available beforehand via BoardDocs

Questions can be sent via email and addressed during meeting

Cold Spring Harbor School District 4/4

Meetings are being livestreamed via Zoom

Videos of the boards hearings are available at the district’s YouTube page

Board agendas and documents are available at its meeting portal page

The board advises sending questions via email, which are addressed during the meeting

This article has been amended June 16 to update information about the Suffolk County legislature.

People in Port Jefferson line up to eat at Prohibition Kitchen, doing their best to stay six feet apart. Photo by Kyle Barr

After two months of shutdown, area businesses were given the go-ahead to restart operations when Suffolk County reached Phase One of the state’s reopening process. It is the first of four phases as state officials slowly lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

For many storefronts, it is the first step on the path to recovery. Here’s how things are going for a few retailers in Port Jefferson. 

Renee Goldfarb, owner of Origin of Era boutique in Port Jefferson, said it’s been a delicate balance of making sure they are operating safely and trying to make some revenue again. For select retailers like hers, they are limited as of now to only curbside pickup. 

“We’ve encouraged our customers to check out our online store and if they like a certain item they can email, and we’ll have it ready for them at the door,” she said. “It’s been difficult because we are very hands on, we want the customer to be able to try on a piece but we’re limited on what we can do.”

Goldfarb hopes owners can eventually make up for some of their losses. But she also took issue with how the state handled big retailers remaining open.  

“Do I think it was implemented the right way? I don’t think so,” she said. “I understand Walmart and Target sell essential products, but people were also able to buy nonessential items. That completely puts mom-and-pop shops at a disadvantage. They should have closed that area off [to customers during the shutdown].”

Abby Buller, who runs the Village Boutique in Port Jefferson, said sales have been slow the first few days open. On Memorial Day weekend, a time when the businesses thrive with the influx of people, Buller said she only saw about six people walking the streets. 

“There was no one on the streets, why should they come to a town where they can’t go shopping. This is a shopping and eating town,” she said. “The bars are closed; the restaurants are only allowing pickup. Right now, there is no reason for the Connecticut people to come and take the ferry — there’s nothing to do once you get here.”

With eight weeks of no income coming in, the boutique owner is glad she can start bringing in some sales. She was also frustrated with how the state handled the initial shutdown restrictions and agreed with Goldfarb.. 

“What they’ve done to small businesses is ridiculous,” she said. “From the beginning they allowed Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s to sell nonessential products,” Buller said. “The fact that they were allowed to stay open during this time and make more money is disgusting, small businesses have been suffering.” 

Brookhaven officials have spoken out on the issue. 

“I am very concerned about the prospects for the future of our small businesses,” said Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), at a recent press conference. “We need to be safe and we need to be smart, but we don’t need rules that work against mom-and-pop businesses when there’s no reason to do that. I ask the governor and county executive to take action now and help our small businesses and downtowns fully reopen again.”

The comments came after recommendations from the town’s post-COVID-19 task force looking at economic recovery. Members of the committee said the state’s plan has favored big box stores.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) had similar sentiments. 

“We are asking the state to take a different approach when reopening businesses and use a more objective standard, such as the square footage recommendation made by the town a few weeks ago,” she said. “This will place our small businesses on more equal footing with the other larger and big box businesses.”

With Phase Two close by, owners will have to continue to obey social distancing guidelines. Retailers will be required to limit capacity. Patrons and workers are also required to wear masks.

Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and owner of East End Shirt Company is trying to make the best of their current situation as they look towards phase two. 

“Sales have been near zero, though we’ve had some customers,” she said. “But it’s important right now to be open, present and let people know we’re here.”

Going into phase two, Pipe will be changing the interior of the store to meet social distancing guidelines. Masks and the use of hand sanitizers will be required. 

“I think many of us look forward to starting a on a new page, looking back is painful,” she said. “We’re grateful to the community, they’ve had us in their minds and we feel that.”

In addition, once Phase Two begins, Goldfarb may implement an appointment-only model where up to six people can be in the store at a given time. She is also considering private shopping experiences. 

“My store is 700 square feet, we’re in a confined space. I’ll be requiring customers to wear masks until I feel it is comfortable to stop,” Goldfarb said. “I may lose customers but it’s our responsibility to be safe.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine during his State of the Town address. Photo by Kyle Barr

Brookhaven town has announced they are now accepting applications for COVID-19 Social Distancing Accommodations, which would allow businesses to expand outdoor seating and sales. This includes some retail establishments as well as houses of worship.

The permits are being fast tracked by the town and all fees are waived. This would immediately allow businesses to open up as Long Island enters Phase Two of reopening. All permits expire on Nov. 1.

The permits were partially formed thanks to the work of the Brookhaven Recovery Task Force, which Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said “we have implemented this strategy to allow businesses to expand their operations beyond the confines of their four walls so that they can maintain distancing and keep their customers and employees safe without drastically reducing their operation.”

Types of eligible businesses include:

• Restaurants

• Retail sales establishments

• Personal service shops

• Places of worship

• Health clubs

• Delicatessens

• Assembly and social recreation halls

• Offices

• Movie theatres

• Non-degree-granting instruction/program except those associated with manufacturing or driver training

• Tasting rooms as an accessory to a permitted principal farm brewery, cidery, distillery, or winery use

• Large commercial retailer, except those deemed essential business

The application is available on the Town of Brookhaven website at www.BrookhavenNY.gov/RestartBrookhaven. For more information, call 631-451-6400.

The silver maple tree outside Chris Ryon’s home in Setauket rises about 60 feet. Photo by Kyle Barr

Along a small East Setauket street off Shore Road and near Se-Port Deli, a giant stands dying. 

It’s hard to relate just how large it is in words, let alone photos. Nothing does it justice. At approximately 60 feet high and 222 inches in circumference, measured at 4.5 feet off the ground, the enormous silver maple in Setauket is one of the few of its kind that remembers a time potentially up to the Revolutionary period or even further back.

Three-year-old Dina Amelchenko standing in front of the enormous tree in Setauket. Photo by Chris Ryan

Along Carlton Avenue, in front of Chris Ryon’s house, the best way to gauge the size of it is by comparison. Three-year-old neighbor Dina Amelchenko is dwarfed by it. Ryon, at 5 feet, 7 inches tall, can only reach the crook of the lowest branches with the tips of his fingers.  

Ryon, a lifelong area resident and village historian for Port Jefferson and Poquott, has taken care of it for more than two decades. Now its bright bark is flaking off its core, and limbs are starting to tear from the trunk.

“Although the tree has been admired by many, for hundreds of years, it has reached the end of its lifetime,” he said. 

Silver maples once lined the streets in the Setauket community, but the tree is not known for its steadfastness over such a long lifespan. Ryon said almost all have fallen or been removed, though none were anywhere near the size of the one in front of his house.

Ryon and his wife Karen purchased the house in 1996 from Fred and Betty Griffith, he said, which meant they also started taking over care of the tree. Prior to their moving in, the Griffiths had installed three cables connecting six of the giant tree branches together. Since then, the Ryons have paid for trimming the maple and removing any of the dead wood, with the help of neighbors Rich and Jeff Usher. 

Despite these efforts, the tree still seems to be on its last legs. Some of the tree’s limbs have snapped off and crushed a part of the Ryons’ fence. Others could also come loose and damage neighboring homes or cars. 

“We want to document it before it goes, if it does go, since it is unsafe at this point,” Chris Ryon said. “There’s a lot of question marks — we don’t know what the town is going to do with it.”

The race is now on to preserve the great silver maple and find some way to preserve the specimen for future generations.

There are ways to date it, either by bisecting it to count the rings or by coring it using a specially made device, or by carbon dating it. Without state foresters able to take any kinds of measurements, the exact age is still unknown.

John Wernet, the regional state forester of Long Island, said he has had conversations with Ryon but has not been able to go out to see the tree, as the pandemic and state cuts have left him unable to leave his office. Though he said the tree is not the biggest tree of its type in New York state, based solely on its circumference, it could easily be one of the largest on Long Island, if nothing else. 

The state keeps a registry of all large trees, but the list does not offer any kind of protections. 

“It’s more for bragging rights,” he said, adding that there is little he can do on the state side in tree preservation efforts, though he hopes the silver maple can somehow be protected.

Setauket groups are especially keen on preserving local history. with entities like the Three Village Historical Society and its annual Culper Spy Day event. Ryon said the tree could be used by local historical societies, where even a bisection of the tree could show what years showed more or less rain, and even relate which years local or national historical events took place.

The question lingers on what can be done to or for the tree. Three Village Civic Association 1st Vice President George Hoffman said the organization was just recently contacted about it, but said that they want to work with both residents and the town to help preserve the giant maple in some way, shape or form. 

“I know highways [department] have responsibility, but that should be the last resort to take down a tree,” Hoffman said. “We’re here to support the community, but it’s still really early.”

Those in the community who were there in the 1970s are still burned by the loss of another tree, known as the Lubber Street Oak at the corner of Lubber and Black Duck Drive in Stony Brook. According to a bronze plaque residents set up at the site, the tree stood at 84 feet tall with a circumference of 280 inches. It was believed to be over 300 years old when it was taken down by the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department in 1979.

Bill Schaub, the Ryons’ neighbor and member and past president of the civic, said they would like the tree preserved in some way, especially considering residents’ past consternation with local government unilaterally removing those trees without first speaking to residents.

“If it has to be cut down because of disease then that’s understandable, there has to be a balance between beauty and safety,” he said. “But I think we can achieve that.”

A Highway Department spokesperson said the tree was only recently brought to the department’s attention, and no final decision has been made.

Amazing Olive in Port Jefferson village is just one of many businesses which has turned to online orders as nonessential shops have been closed. Photo by Kyle Barr

As Long Island continues to take steps toward reopening and some sense of normalcy, municipalities are aiming to help small businesses and their financial futures. The Town of Brookhaven has created a post-COVID-19 task force for economic recovery in an effort to revitalize the downtown areas and help small businesses affected by the pandemic, many of which are receiving no income at all during this time.

The Small Business Recovery Task Force is made up of business owners, chamber of commerce representatives, business experts and other officials. 

Barbara Ransome, executive director of the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, said the task force gives them the opportunity to come together and be on the same page on how to help these small businesses. 

“We all have similar concerns and it’s important that we rally together and have a unified plan,” she said. 

The task force has continued to comply with feedback from local business owners. A complaint they have brought up is the state’s process of phasing in business reopenings.

“They could come up with a formula that could be based on square footage of a business and safety measures.”

— Barbara Ransome

Ransome said the state’s plan favors big box stores. While large retailers like Target and Walmart have been able to stay open, smaller merchants, who sell many of the same products, have been forced to close. =

“Those businesses don’t have that ability right now [to reopen],” she said. 

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and the Suffolk County Supervisors’ Association has sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) calling on him to come up with a consistent way of judging businesses. 

“They could come up with a formula that could be based on square footage of a business and safety measures,” she said. 

The group has also called on elected officials to help with insurance coverage issues.

Educating business owners, merchants and customers on social distancing and other best practices is another area the task force is focusing on. 

“It’s all our responsibility to make sure we are on the same page,” said Charlie Lefkowitz, the president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce,. 

One idea they’ve proposed is creating a public service announcement in coordination with the town. Lefkowitz said it would inform the public on safety measures, social distancing compliance and other information. They would also use it as an opportunity to send out a positive message of unity. 

“The hardest thing we will have to figure out is how we are going to social distance,” he said. “We are trying to help these main street and small businesses.”

In addition, the task force is looking at ways to ease the reopening process for owners. Capacity and the number of customers a business can serve could play a huge role in how they do so, given the state’s COVID-19 guidelines. 

Lefkowitz said he has been working with the town officials on a way to allow business owners to temporarily extend their store space either by permits, tweaking town code or drafting new legislation. 

“Some businesses might be able to use walkways and put merchandise outside, or they could set up a tent outside in the parking lot,” he said. 

The chamber of commerce president has a draft legislation proposal that would increase the floor area ratio of a business, which would help in making more selling space. 

Lefkowitz said restaurants were just one type of business that could benefit from increase in space. 

“They can be more efficient with indoor and outdoor space,” he said. “Whatever the capacity is, you may have customers that might not feel comfortable going inside.” 

Long Island has taken steps toward reaching Phase 1 of Cuomo’s New York Forward plan for reopening its economy, meeting five of seven benchmarks required by the state. The governor’s plan to reopen consists of four phases which include different categories. Restaurants are in Phase 3. 

“Whatever the capacity is, you may have customers that might not feel comfortable going inside.”

— Charlie Lefkowitz

Michael Ardolino, a past president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said businesses will be facing different challenges when they reopen. 

“How will places like beauty salons and barbershops fare when everyone is in close proximity to each other?” he said. “These owners will want to be able to get their business going.”

Ardolino said he could envision a scenario where those types of businesses take a certain number of customers by appointment only.  

“We will continue to monitor all businesses and may have to plan for what might be a new business climate,” he said.  

Owners hope business reopens sooner rather than later, with summer close by. 

“As the warmer weather gets closer it will be challenging to keep people at bay,” Ransome said. “We have to continue to push government leaders, need to continue to make these phases and hit these benchmarks so we can reopen. We don’t want to be going backward instead of going forward.”

Heritage Center at Heritage Park is used by the trust for its events. Photo by Kyle Barr

During the spring and summer seasons, the community center at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai would see an abundance of residents stopping in to take a break from the park or to join in the plethora of events held there. That all changed with COVID-19, and with no indication on when it can reopen, members of nonprofit Heritage Trust, which oversees the park, say they may need to reinvent themselves in order for them and the center to survive. 

Victoria Hazan, president of the organization, said right now is usually their busy season at the community center. They would normally have a number of classes, events, parties and receptions held in the building. 

People of all ages enjoy Heritage Park for its sizable number of amenities. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We usually have tons of things going on during the week, there’s Zumba, country line dancing, cooking classes, the local church and civic association use the space as well,” she said. “Before COVID-19 we were booked solid through next April.” 

Renting out the community center space is a major revenue source for nonprofit and it helps pay for other expenses. Without that option, it will be tougher to be able to pay for rent and insurance payments. 

Since closing in March, the organization has refunded deposits back to planned renters. 

“Those issues just don’t go away, our insurance on the building is extremely high,” Hazan said. 

The organization was able to get a three-month deferment of its mortgage payments, but that ends in July. 

Another funding avenue that the organization relies on is their regular fundraising events. This year they were unable to put on the annual spring carnival, one of the park’s main fundraising sources. That revenue from the carnival helps them host other events including the Christmas tree lighting and Halloween festival. 

Given the financial strains from COVID-19, the nonprofit may be forced to change how it operates. This year, the trust was planning to celebrate its 20th anniversary since its inception.

Lori Baldassare, the founding director of the organization, said they have looked at consolidating with other local nonprofits, as well as combining resources and staff. They have talked to North Shore Youth Council about possibly sharing some of the community center space. 

In addition, members are still trying to find creative ways to host some type of events for the time being. One idea would be a drive-in movie night or a virtual fundraising concert held at the community center, where only performers would be in the building and residents could watch from their homes. 

“Logistically it would be difficult to pull off but it’s something,” Baldassare said. “The community center fills a void for a lot of people.”

The group hopes the community can come to their aid. One of the issues the trust has faced over the years is that residents don’t necessarily know how they operate and mistakenly think the Heritage Park is run by Brookhaven Town or Suffolk County. Brookhaven workers generously supply general maintenance of the baseball field and grass cutting to the park, but the center and playground are owned by the trust, and all other landscaping, such as the flower plantings, are all done by volunteers.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 454 look at the names of flags in Mount Sinai Heritage Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

Baldassare said it has been a messaging issue but hopes if people learn where the funding comes from and what they’ve been offering to the community, individuals would be willing to make donations. 

The two agreed that the trust may need to change how they operate post-COVID-19. 

“I don’t see us coming out the same way we were before coronavirus,” Baldassare said. “We can’t just think nothing will happen, we want to continue to provide a sense of place for the community and I hope we have a path forward to do that.”

Hazan is concerned of how the community center will fare once the pandemic and shutdown is over. 

“I don’t foresee many people being comfortable at a big event like a wedding or reception,” she said. “There will probably be baby steps along the way.”

Possible capacity restrictions could be another obstacle for the group. 

“Not a lot of people are going to want to rent out a place like the center with just limited capacity,” Hazan said. “We’re worried, we’ve worked so hard over the years to get where we are, and I would hate to see it go away.”

When the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic truly hit home back in March, after businesses were forced closed from state mandates, many turned to their insurance providers and filed for business interruption insurance, which they expected would be used for just this sort of occasion.

Only many received notifications back that their claims were denied. The reason: Insurance companies put in provisions within their policies that excluded coverage due to damages “caused by or resulting from any virus, bacterium or other microorganism that induced or is capable of including physical distress, illness or disease,” according to the Insurance Services Office, an insurance advisory organization.

Though business owners and small business advocates such as The Ward Melville Heritage Organization President Gloria Rocchio pay the premiums year after year, she said they and so many others were denied coverage despite the fact that small businesses didn’t close because they or their shops were confirmed with the virus, but government orders forced them to close. 

“Very simplistically, [business owners] buy themselves a job for the community, and now they’re made to lay off people, keep their business closed, pay all fixed overheads and maybe they don’t have a reserve at home,” Rocchio said. “Everything the government is putting forth is not helping the small businessman — the one who doesn’t have a million in the bank and is paying fixed expenses.”

Efforts on Local and State Levels

The provision in many insurance policies was instituted little less than two decades ago after the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic of the early 2000s. It is only now, almost 20 years later, that owners filing claims learn of the provision despite them having paid premiums for years.

There is a combined bill in the New York State Assembly and Senate to require companies to accept current interruption claims. 

WMHO submitted a public letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) April 22 requesting he supports the Assembly and Senate bill. 

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable.”

— Steve Englebright

“An insurance policy is a contract between the insured and the insurer that clearly spells out those conditions covered and excluded,” the letter reads. “In recent years, because of severe losses, insurers have added exclusions to their policies, slowly diminishing the very purpose of insurance.”

The state Assembly bill is being sponsored in part by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), and there is a concurrent bill in the state Senate. It would require insurance agencies to cover businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and would renew any policy that would have covered businesses during shutdown if they expired in the meantime. New York is just one state of seven which is proposing bills to mandate coverage.

“Insurance is controlling risk, that’s what insurance companies do,” Englebright said. “What we’re saying is risk transfer needs to occur with this type of policy in a more predictable manner and a more eligible manner than the fine print currently allows.”

The bill is still in the Assembly Insurance Committee, but Englebright, a ranking assemblyman, said it is picking up widespread support in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. 

He added he does not believe what insurance companies say when they argue accepting businesses claims would bankrupt their agencies.

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable,” Englebright said. 

Multiple local government and industry groups have come out in support of such a bill. The Long Island Builders Institute released a letter supporting the legislation, saying that if a business has been paying for its insurance, it should honor the claims. 

Mitch Pally, CEO of LIBI, said the insurance companies denying these claims will only create a deeper hole in the economy, which will be an even greater burden to the insurance companies if they go under and no longer can pay their premiums. He also predicted dire consequences to many businesses if claims continue to be denied by June 30 “because the people who bought them didn’t assume their business can be interrupted by something that doesn’t apply [to the insurance].” 

The Brookhaven Town Board and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also signed a letter asking Cuomo to throw his support behind the bills.

Federal Efforts

There is a bill currently lingering in the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) that would require insurance companies in the future from denying company’s claims based on a pandemic, but even that has seen “tremendous pushback from the insurance industry,” he said during a Zoom call hosted by Discover Long Island May 19. “It’s very controversial — I’m getting the crap kicked out of me by certain people.”

Suozzi, who was appointed by President Donald Trump (R) to the economic reopening task force, said he did not believe anything regarding interruption insurance will see the light of day in some of the large stimulus bills Congress is currently working on.

Some policyholders nationwide have sued their insurance companies for denying their claims. A barbershop owner in San Diego has created a class action lawsuit against his policyholder, Farmers Insurance Group, for denying his claim under such virus damages provisions. Several other class-action lawsuits have been filed in the past month and a half against several other insurance companies.

Though such lawsuits take months if not years to get going, and especially with many court systems largely shut down from the pandemic, it will be a while before any cases see a judge.

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business,” Pally said.

Insurance Providers Respond

The American Property Casualty Insurance Association has said if governments required the companies process these claims, it would mean companies would have to process over 30 million businesses suffering from COVID-19-related losses. APCIA President David Sampson was quoted on Twitter saying requiring so would “significantly undermine” their abilities to cover such things as wind damage, fire or other losses.

The industry as a whole currently sits on an $800 billion surplus, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. That business group released a report May 15 with statements from 50 experts from the Wisconsin School of Business insurance panel that if local governments force insurance companies to accept the claims, it will “threaten the solvency of the insurance industry.” Though the report is sponsored by the association through its independent research division, most experts on the panel largely agreed the private marketplace could not handle all the losses with the current surplus in the industry. 

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business.”

— Mitch Pally

Though in that same study, some experts, 13 percent of the 50, argued the industry could be able to handle the claims, depending on how federal legislation was enacted. 

Industry lobbyists have said the federal government should be providing help, but one example of small business aid, the Paycheck Protection Program, which was supposed to help keep many small shops in business, has been mired in problems since its inception, and many owners are simply refusing to use the funds fearing they will have to pay back the money long term as a loan. 

The Washington Post reported last month that insurance associations and business groups are hiring lobbyists specifically to play out this fight in Washington, D.C.

What some are hoping for is some kind of middle ground, a place where insurers and the federal government’s interests meet. One suggested draft bill, the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020, would pay agencies losses when those exceed $250 million and capped at $500 billion over the calendar year, though that bill would only cover future pandemics, and more insurance companies have come out saying it should be the federal government which needs to handle such calls for aid, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Suozzi said he agreed most insurance companies would be “wiped out” trying to cover interruption claims during the pandemic, but also put stock in a public-private partnership, including the possibility of using the infrastructure of the insurance industries to funnel money back into these businesses.

“The bottom line is there’s no relief right now — it’s not going to solve anybody’s problems right now — and I don’t want anybody to get their hopes up,” the congressman said. “But it’s something I’m conscious of and other people are working on it — we just don’t know what the right answer is yet to get it done, because there is so much incredible pushback from the other side.”

In the meantime, Pally said it’s best for businesses to continue writing their state and federal officials. Rocchio suggested that owners, despite the fact some agencies are advising not to bother to file a claim, should apply anyway should anything change in the near future.