Tags Posts tagged with "Town of Brookhaven"

Town of Brookhaven

Slurp Ramen in Port Jefferson has set up a unique means of serving customers, with a large screen in between workers and patrons. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local business owners are looking at an uncertain future due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis here on Long Island.

Due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order that shut down nonessential businesses last Saturday in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, entrepreneurs and others are worried if they will be able to survive the financial blow. With bills due at the beginning of the month and with no new income coming in, many are calling on the state and the federal government for help.

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club, looks at blueprints of new the building in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Tuesday, Congress and the President Donald Trump (R) administration finally reached a $2 trillion agreement to assist people during the ongoing crisis. The new bill includes one-time direct payments to residents of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year or $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child. It also includes a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. Meanwhile, for larger industries the bill includes $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to bail them out as revenue has severely dropped.

Still, the question remains of how small local businesses will remain intact or even be able to open their doors again as the crisis ebbs.

Indu Kaur, director of operations of The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station, said, “This is a burden my father and I are trying to figure out, just like everyone else,”

A family of restaurateurs who recently took over The Harbor Grill had plans to open their third restaurant this month. In addition, The Meadow Club was set to reopen after being closed due to a fire in 2018. Kaur said the ongoing health crisis has put both openings on hold.

In the meantime, she said, The Curry Club in East Setauket is taking take-out and delivery orders.

“We had to lay off our staff,” she said. “There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

When asked about the recent virus rescue bil from the federal government, Kaur said “it was great news and a good first step. “Many of us are suffering financially right now.”

She also said she is hopefully that Suffolk County can eventually do something similar to help business owners.

Currently, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering economic injury disaster loans to affected businesses. Funds come directly from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the maximum unsecured loan amount is $25,000.

Kaur said she doesn’t think that is a viable option for her and other business owners.

“I’m not sure we can take out one more loan on what we already have,” she said. “For others there might be no other option.”

Last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the launch of the Business Recovery Unit, a component of the county’s Business Response Plan, to address concerns and questions that businesses have amid the coronavirus outbreak. Businesses are asked to complete a comprehensive survey on the county’s website (www.suffolkcountyny.gov).

In a conference call March 23, Bellone said that, with several hundred surveys completed, over 4,000 workers were indicated as laid off or furloughed.

“We keep getting calls and the numbers are going up; we are getting calls from workers who are self-employed who are in the same boat,” Bellone said.

In the new federal relief package, furloughed workers will have their salaries replaced for four months, getting whatever amount the state provides in unemployment plus a $600 add-on per week. Gig workers such as Uber drivers are included in that as well.

“There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

Indu Kaur

In an effort to help business owners, New York State Republicans sent Cuomo a COVID-19 action plan that includes extending the payments of monthly sales tax by 90 days, making available no-interest loans immediately to entities that face a dramatic decrease in business and eliminating penalties for late payments of business and property taxes, among other things.

Similarly, over 17,600  people signed a Change.org petition titled Save Small Business Before It’s Too Late. It also called on the city, state and federal governments to take the necessary steps to save local businesses.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, creating jobs, generating tax revenue and providing valuable services,” said New York City Councilman Mark Gjonaj (D), who started the petition.

Lenore Paprocky, president of the Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, said, while a lot of businesses are hurting, she is grateful how everyone is willing to come together and help fellow entrepreneurs.

“It’s difficult right now but we want to keep these businesses afloat,” she said.

The chamber has come up with a list of local businesses that are offering catering/takeout and automotive services.

Paprocky said they are trying to stay optimistic amid the ongoing shutdown, and she hopes elected officials can hash something out to help them.

“The future is uncertain, but we need to stay positive and work together to get through this,” the president of the chamber said.

Katrina Denning, Erica Kutzing and Jenny Luca are the three in charge of Brookhaven’s new TNR task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new pilot trap, neuter and release program will look to stem the tide of the growing feral cat population in the Town of Brookhaven. Such has been the efforts of local animal activists who for months have advocated for official help in what seemed an insurmountable problem. 

Erica Kutzing, a Sound Beach resident and vice president of North Shore-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said she and others believe it will allow for better outcomes and success rates for feral cats. 

Strong Island Animal Rescue joined with local animal activists and Brookhaven town to set up the new task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It meant a lot to us to help solve this real issue,” she said. 

Kutzing, Katrina Denning, founder of the Jacob’s Hope Rescue, and Jenny Luca, among others attended a number of Town Board meetings from October to December 2019, discussing the need for Brookhaven to provide more assistance to local animal rescue groups in the ongoing feral cat crisis. 

“The TNR [Trap-Neuter-Return] program at that time was broken and needed to be fixed,” Kutzing said. 

At the end of December, the trio were given the opportunity to meet with Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Town Board members to talk about the status of the program. In two separate meetings, animal rescue advocates discussed ways they could improve the program and ease the burden on local rescue groups.

After some weeks of negotiations, town officials agreed to put the trio in charge of the task force. The town also decided to increase the original program’s budget from $40,000 to $60,000, began a partnership with Medford-based veterinary clinic Long Island Spay & Neuter, and will pay professional trappers to help capture feral cats. 

The pilot program was officially announced at the March 12 board meeting, classified as a “Program for the Public Good,” thereby qualifying it for coverage under the town’s public good insurance. 

“We are moving in a direction to reduce the population of feral cats — we believe the best way to deal with this issue is to work with nonprofits, who are extremely committed people,” Romaine said. “Limiting the population is the right thing to do for the community.” 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said the feral cat population on Long Island has been increasing drastically over the years, with a significant amount being located in Council District 1. 

“The town was able to develop the pilot program with significant community input from the rescue organizations,” she said in a statement. “We are anticipating success of the pilot program and we appreciate the community groups working collaboratively with the town.”

Denning said they were pleasantly surprised that town officials put them in charge and supported their ideas. She expects to see improved results once the program is set up, especially with Dr. John Berger, a veterinarian at Long Island Spay & Neuter, in place to perform the procedures.

“The way it was done before was just not working,” she said. “We needed someone who was skilled with dealing with a high volume of feral cats. Dr. Berger is trained to do a large number of surgeries.”

In turn, Denning said it will allow them to get more cats fixed and treated than before. 

“We will be doing clinics and specifically have a block of time where Dr. Berger can deal with a mass quantity at once,” she said. “We will be able to treat 20-30 cats and deal with entire colonies.”

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

In addition, the group will come up with a list of approved trappers who will “go out and capture these feral cats instead of the homeowners who are not as experienced,” Denning said. “We will be paying them for their work and incentivize them to go out more, now they don’t need to spend their own money on supplies.”

Luca, who has been an independent rescuer for the past 10 years, said the new program will allow them to do more in helping feral cats. 

“Cats are on every block on Long Island — we were very limited in what we could do before,” she said. 

Luca said with added support they will be able to use funds to buy new equipment like drop traps to ensure they’ll be able to capture more feral cats. 

Another aspect of the program is public education. 

“Educating people is huge — we are looking for individuals/volunteers who are interested in learning what we do and help us, it would be great,” Luca said.

Kutzing said surgery appointments will be twice a month at the clinics and they expect the program to be up and running sometime in April. 

In the meantime, the trio is excited for
the opportunity.

“It is incredible what we’ve been able to do,” Kutzing said. “It has been such a rewarding experience.”

Landlord of MS Property Also Owns Historic Derelict House in Port Jeff

The house at 63 Shore Road is owned by TAB Suffolk Acquistions, the same company that owns a historic derelict house in Port Jefferson on Sheep Pasture Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it is just one of a huge slate of derelict homes the Town of Brookhaven deals with on a monthly basis, one house in Mount Sinai has been causing more issues than others recently.

At the Feb. 27 Town Board meeting, the council members voted to demolish a garage located at 63 Shore Drive in Mount Sinai, though the house would remain untouched.

The garage at 63 Shore Drive in Mount Sinai will soon be taken down if the property owner does not file permits. Photo by Kyle Barr

This set off a press of neighbors angry the Town would not be touching the residential part of the property, which they said has been a problem property for years.

Lynn Capobianco, a Mount Sinai resident and previous president of the school board, said while she appreciates the Town coming in with work crews to keep the property somewhat tame, the issue with the house remains.

“We’ve been saying that for a long time — it’s only in the last year the Town has started to listen,” she said.

In a 2019 report by Hauppauge-based firm Cashin Spinelli and Ferretti LLC, the building was cited as being “in extremely poor condition,” with the inside filled with trash and debris. Additionally, ceilings were collapsing due to water damage, with engineers also suspecting mold. The inspectors cited the property for multiple fire and safety violations. The house was originally boarded up after the report in June 2019. 

Town officials said another reconnaissance of the property was done Feb. 24 of this year. Inspectors did not go into the residential portion of the property, said Brendan Sweeney, who works for the Town, often presenting to the board about these zombie homes. He also said the new analysis by the inspector, “did not certify the house was unsafe.” 

The garage was reportedly collapsing with a building full of debris and garbage. Town officials said inspectors recommended the garage be torn down. The owner has 30 days to file permits showing he’s making an effort to fix the garage before the building is removed.

Some local residents took umbrage with this, citing the 2019 engineering report and their own personal dealings with the property. Several cited issues such as young people exploring the empty structure and animals inhabiting within. 

Kerry Hogan, a neighbor who has worked in and taught construction arts, said on visits to the property the damage was such that the best recourse is to simply tear it down and build something new.

“Once I saw [the] condition, I knew I would not bid on the house when it became available,” she said at the meeting.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) directed all inquiries about the house and plans for demolition to the law department.

Town attorney Annette Eaderesto said the Town senior building inspector went to the house Feb. 24 and saw that the garage was in immediate danger of collapse, while the house wasn’t. 

“This is not the first time we’ve taken down a shed or garage instead of the main residence first,” she said. 

Part of the process, the Town attorney said, takes into account the house is in a transitional historic area. That requires a review from the Historic District Advisory Committee, which meets the second Tuesday of every month. The process is the same whether the building is in the transition zone or the historic district.

Edna Giffen, the recording secretary of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, said the transition zone is basically a buffer between the Town and the main historic district in Mount Sinai. While the rules affecting property are laxer in the transition zone than the main historic district, she confirmed the Town’s advisory committee still has to look at every permit for property in both. 

Still, she said it was a shame to watch it and other houses deteriorate. Two other buildings, one in the main historic and the other in the transition zone, have been taken down by the Town since 2012 and the impact of Superstorm Sandy.

“It’s a sad situation it was allowed to deteriorate so much,” she said. “It’s like watching an old poor soul die a slow death.” 

Town of Brookhaven notices of the public hearing and the stop-work order when the owner attempted to repair the roof. Photo by Kyle Barr

Since the 2008 mortgage crisis and subsequent recession, the Town has been inundated with thousands of these derelict or zombie homes. Brookhaven has taken the unique approach to dealing with the situation by taking care of flagrant properties, mowing the grass and boarding up homes, then putting liens on these properties. If owners cannot be reached or cannot handle reconstituting the property, then the Town will hire contractors to demolish them, putting the cost as additional liens on the property.

However, in this case, Town officials said they have come across hiccups due to the historic nature of the surrounding area. This does not mean the Town would not be able to demolish the full property in the future.

At the Feb. 27 meeting, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Bonner both said they would like to do an additional engineering report on the property.

Neighbors also said the owner had brought in unlicensed contractors to fix the building’s roof in 2018, but after calls from residents the Town had put a stop-work order on that construction.

The property is owned by TAB Suffolk Acquisitions, an elusive real estate company reportedly based at 63 George St. in Roslyn Heights, according to the Town. Local officials, including from Port Jefferson village and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), have been on the hunt for the company owner as it has also purchased a derelict property at 49 Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson. That house has significant historic worth, according to local historians. The assemblyman interjected before the property could be demolished by the village, and the house has remained boarded up ever since.

Sweeney said the owner of 63 Shore Drive had come to the meeting but left without speaking. He did not get the owner’s name. 

Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said TAB Suffolk Acquisitions has bought up a lot of property in Suffolk foreclosures, according to their data from the comptroller’s office. Bonner criticized the company for sitting on such properties and not doing anything with them.

“There’s a lot of money coming out of the city and western Nassau — there’s a lot of property being bought up,” Panico said. “This is one of those companies that buys up a ton of houses.”

Neighbors said they knew the owner only as “Sam.” They said he has been cordial in the past but has largely been absent.

When called, the person on the other end who confirmed he was the owner of the property said they are in the process of getting permits from the Town to fix up the property, “within 30 days.”

He spoke about his prior attempts to fix the roof before the Town put a stop-work order on those repairs. As to residents’ complaints, he said residents have known and stayed silent on the state of the house for longer than recent efforts to demolish it.

“The house has been in this shape for years,” he said.

After he said his name was Sam, he hung up the phone and did not answer further calls for comment. 

Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer points to a chart showing the impact discovery law changes have had on small municipalities. Photo by David Luces

Town supervisors in Suffolk County say recent criminal justice reform has caused “unintended consequences” to municipalities and local code enforcement. They are asking the state to exempt small municipalities from new guidelines, among other things. 

The issue they have is with the state’s new discovery provisions, which require names and contact information for complaints to be turned over within 15 days of arraignment. In turn, it has eliminated anonymity, which many municipalities rely on when it comes to handling code violations. 

“You’re not going to call, you’re not going to complain, what does that do for the quality of life?”

— Ed Romaine

Rich Schaffer (D), Town of Babylon supervisor and chair of the county Democratic committee, said at a March 5 press conference they usually receive a lot of anonymous tips from concerned residents but have noticed many are not willing to come forward with the new changes. 

“They don’t want to put their names down, and quite frankly we don’t want to [either],” he said. “We want to be able to go after the offenders and educate them on how to clean up their act and be a good neighbor.”

A letter signed by all of the county’s town supervisors was sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in January. The group said with the new standards in how case information is turned over to the courts, it means there are currently no distinctions between a homicide case and a “municipal code violation for high grass.” 

The supervisors said the reform was rushed through the legislature and didn’t give municipalities enough time to formulate a public education campaign. In addition, the changes hurt them on a local level because the state “got involved in things that we didn’t need their involvement in,” Schaffer said.

Supervisors also complained the requirement for after issuing a summons, a court date must be set within 20 days. Officials said it used to take a month to process cases, but now there are four additional “hoops to jump through” to process a complaint. A case could take up to two years to be resolved.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the criminal justice reform has had a “chilling effect on code enforcement.” 

“So now, if you live next to a guy that has a house with two illegal apartments and four or five unregistered vehicles and trash on the property, if you call, we are obligated by state law to tell the guy next door that you called,” he said. “You’re not going to call, you’re not going to complain, what does that do for the quality of life?”

The four supervisors called on the state Legislature to pass a bill that would allow townships to handle their own code enforcement cases and reinstate anonymity.  

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) and state Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) are proposing bills that would allow anonymity for those reporting local code violations, let municipalities take these cases out of district court and allow them to create their own administrative bureau. 

Chad Lupinacci (R), Town of Huntington supervisor, said many of the problems discussed can be eliminated if municipalities had their own administrative bureau. Huntington is one of three municipalities in the state to have one. 

“The bureau should be up and running sometime in May,” he said. “Code enforcement officers, instead of having to comply with these changes, will be able to just enforce the code and ensure that neighborhoods are safer.”

Brookhaven assistant attorney David Moran said they will work in compliance with the law but called it an “unfunded mandate” with no real direction given how to be in compliance. 

Schaffer said he’s volunteering Babylon to be the guinea pig regarding not following the new law and seeing what comes out of it. 

“I’d like to be the test case to challenge the system,” he said.

Sei Ramen in East Setauket is just one Asian restaurant on Long Island that said business is down since the start of the coronavirus panic. Photo by David Luces

The uncertainty of the coronavirus has led many people to avoid public places that see a lot of foot traffic. Some have resorted to hunkering down at home. With the first confirmed cases of coronavirus reported in Suffolk County this past week, despite efforts to sanitize their locations, some local businesses owners have been seeing the impact directly.

Since the outbreak began in China late last year, Asian American and Chinese restaurants and businesses have seen a decline in the number of customers. 

The Great Wall Chinese restaurant in Sound Beach is just one of several Asian establishments impacted by irrational fears over the coronavirus. Photo from Google Maps

Kevin Ma, co-owner of Sei Ramen in East Setauket, acknowledged the drop-off in business. 

Business “for area restaurants, it’s going down,” he said. “I have friends that run their own businesses and they are going through the same thing.”

Since opening last month, Ma believes they have been doing OK and hopes to see an uptick in customers once the coronavirus scare dies down.

“All we can do is let customers know the food is safe [to eat],” he said. “We are making sure everything is clean and sanitized.”  

Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, said the fears of coronavirus are affecting businesses in the area. 

“I spoke to two Chinese restaurants [that are chamber members], they don’t want this to affect them,” he said. 

Pollakusky said misinformation on the coronavirus has caused the reduction in business, especially to the new owners of the Great Wall, a Chinese restaurant in Sound Beach. 

“The fears of the people toward Chinese food are irrational — people shouldn’t be afraid of eating local,” he said. “The Great Wall in Sound Beach has new owners and they are very excited to be a part of this community.”

The executive director said all businesses are taking the proper precautions and safety measures to make sure its facilities are clean. 

Libraries also see a lot of visitors and are trying to stay a step ahead.  

Ted Gutmann, director at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, said they are closely monitoring the situation. 

“We take the health and the safety of our patrons very seriously,” he said. “We have ordered additional cleaning supplies to clean surfaces, computers, keyboards and other areas.”

Gutmann said if patrons feel sick, he would advise them not to come to the library. 

“We have tried to be proactive, we haven’t really seen a decrease in attendance at the library,” the director said.

At this point, Emma Clark has not decided to cancel any upcoming events but has had internal discussions about the problem, should the overall situation gets worse. 

Debbie Engelhardt, director of Comsewogue Public Library, had similar sentiments. 

“We haven’t noticed a change in attendance,” she said. “We are trying to be proactive, just washing our hands is part of our daily routine.” 

Engelhardt said they already had numerous sanitizers installed throughout the building. 

“We increased signage reminding employees and patrons to wash their hands,” she said. “If employees are sick, we have told them to stay home — we are monitoring information from the state and county. We are trying to stay educated, we have a responsibility as a public service building.”  

“We are making sure everything is clean and sanitized.”

— Kevin Ma

Several local groups have been canceling events. The Three Village Democratic Club, Three Village Historical Society and Three Village Community Trust have all canceled or pushed off events out of a sense of caution. 

Brookhaven Town has released an executive order canceling all town events for senior citizens due to coronavirus concerns. Those events are suspended beginning March 12. Meals on Wheels deliveries will continue to homebound seniors, while those previously served by congregate nutrition programs at senior centers will be offered meal delivery at home.

Residents can call 631-451-8696 for more information.

Despite the preparation, other businesses said they haven’t seen much of an impact so far.

Bobby Suchan, general manager of Port Jeff Bowl, said besides less people coming into bowling alleys in general, they haven’t seen a change in business as of now. 

“We have installed more hand sanitizer in the building and just making sure everything is clean, which is something we always do,” he said. 

Charlie Ziegler, director of operations at Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, said it’s business as usual at the hotel. 

“It’s not having an effect [on us] — the number of customers coming is the same,” he said. 

Despite that, Ziegler said they will continue to make sure everything in the building is cleaned and sanitized. 

“We had a meeting recently with the staff and we told them to make sure to wash their hands constantly,” he said. “We want to keep areas clean … we are disinfecting areas like the great room, telephones and door handles.”

Ziegler said they don’t anticipate any further disruptions from the coronavirus situation. 

Brookhaven’s Landfill Set to Close in 2024, Romaine Says a Plan is Needed Now

The Brookhaven Landfill is set to close in 2024, but while the town has put aside money towards that end, a concrete plan has yet to materialize. Photo from Google maps

About 100 people crowded into the lower level of a Melville office building Feb. 27. All were there to talk about what ends up in the trash bin. Yet, despite the dry subject matter, all knew that garbage will be the talk of Suffolk County and beyond in just a few short years.

New York State DEC Regional Director Carrie Meek-Gallagher speaks about what it will take to impact the looming garbage crisis. Photo by David Luces

The Long Island Regional Planning Council hosted a meeting about what Long Island does with its garbage and, in particular, how the region will dispose of millions of solid waste when the Town of Brookhaven landfill closes in 2024.  

The discussion brought together local elected officials, environmentalists, waste management company representatives and the state Department of Environmental Conservation, among others.  

Michael White, vice chair of the planning council, outlined the issue to attendees in a presentation. 

Currently, the Brookhaven landfill handles over 350,000 tons of ash annually from energy-from-waste facilities, in addition to handling 720,000 tons of solid waste. 

“Solid waste management is achieved through a public and private sector partnership,” White said. “Trash is either burned or exported to four energy-from-waste facilities on the island.”

The facilities in Hempstead, Huntington-Smithtown, Babylon and Islip are all operated by Covanta Energy. The Babylon location handles about 50,000 tons of waste. 

“The remainder of the residential trash is shipped off on trucks to upstate landfills,” the vice chair of the planning council said. 

White said waste from Oyster Bay, the Town of North Hempstead, Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton get driven off the island.  

“We have thousands of tons of waste shipped off Long Island every day, resulting in further stress on our aging and congested highway and bridge infrastructure,” he said. “And this approach is bringing us ever-increasing costs.”

In a panel following the presentation, experts and officials discussed potential solutions and ideas to what was called a “looming crisis.”   

“The amount of waste generated on Long Island is increasing,” White said. “With the current volume at the Brookhaven landfill, that means 720,000 tons a year of waste has to find a home somewhere, and another 350,000 tons of ash from the energy from waste facilities will have to find a home somewhere.” 

Will Flower, the vice president of regional trash carting company Winters Bros., said statistics show each person produces about 4 1/2 pounds of waste a day. Each day 2,000 trucks transport waste off the island. 

An option mentioned was increasing the use of rail cars to transport solid waste. About 6,000 rail cars carry 600,000 tons of waste off the island.  

Other attendees and panelists said stakeholders need to come up with more innovative ways to handle waste. Ideas included turning ash into building materials and pulverizing recyclable glass to use in road materials. 

“It’s not a looming crisis — It’s now.”

— Ed Romaine

Flower showed a piece of landfill equipment damaged by glass as a result of it being put with other waste, adding that glass can be and should be recycled. 

Since China’s 2018 decision to ban the import of most plastics and other materials used by its recycling processors, a number of municipalities have altered programs and in cases have reduced or eliminated recycling. Suffolk County has recently created a Regional Recycling Assessment Task Force in an effort to tackle the issue.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) called for a regional effort. 

“It’s not a looming crisis — It’s now,” he said. “Either we get together as a region to resolve this and have a path forward, or this is going to be yet another thing that makes Long Island less desirable to live and work.”

The supervisor stressed that the region needs to act to find ways beyond either burning or storing waste in landfills.

“I can’t believe in 2020 that’s the only two ways to deal with waste; we need to do something now before we run out of time,” he said. 

Officials from the planning council said they plan on forming a subcommittee to look at the solid waste management crisis and asked attendees to help them develop further recommendations.

The Rocky Point Fire Department, including the Shoreham fire station, is soon expected to expand coverage for the Village of Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point Fire District will soon extend its coverage area to include the Village of Shoreham. 

Town of Brookhaven officials have already scheduled a public hearing later in the month for the resolution, which is expected to pass. In conjunction, as part of the village merging into the fire district, officials passed a resolution that authorized the tax assessor to consolidate the district’s three separate tax zones into one. 

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said both the Town and fire district could not get it done without the other. The change in tax zones will essentially make for a more streamlined process for the district.

“After the public hearing, if it was supported by my colleagues, [the fire district] would include the Village of Shoreham,” said Bonner. “It is essentially an easier process and less paperwork for both of them.” 

The two latest decisions come after a months-long process where Shoreham officials requested home rule applications to extend the fire district boundaries to encompass the 0.5-square-mile village. In May 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill introduced by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) that authorized the fire district extension. 

Rocky Point Fire District attorney, the Port Jefferson-based Bill Glass who represents the fire district, said the change wouldn’t affect the day-to-day operations of the fire departments and district.

“Operationally there will be no change at all within the district,” he said. “There will not be a significant change to the amount the village already pays for emergency services.” 

Glass said the process should be seamless as the village has contracted out to the fire district for the past decade. He said he doesn’t expect the tax rates for residents to change that much and would probably be similar to the amount that they paid when Shoreham was contracting them. 

On the subject of the consolidation of the three tax zones, the lawyer said the decision was necessary as there was no point in having three separate tax districts anymore. 

“The tax zones were put in place because at one point there were three different water companies [in the area] who had their own tax rates,” Glass said. “That stopped with the Suffolk Water Authority — this helps streamline a lot of things.”

For Shoreham, being a part of the fire district could allow the village budget to decrease as they are not using funds for fire/emergency services. 

A representative from the village could not be reached for comment.

In addition, bringing the village into the fold would allow Shoreham residents to run for positions like fire commissioner. 

The Town will hold a public hearing for the fire district extension Feb. 27. 

Chairperson Jennifer Martin presents a proclamation to Hon. Derrick J. Robinson. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven

The Town of Brookhaven’s Black History Commission hosted its 29th Annual Black History Month celebration on Feb. 7 at Town Hall. 

This year’s program included presentation of academic achievement awards to more than 77 top African-American high school seniors from 14 school districts who achieved a cumulative grade point average of 90 or higher.   

The commission also recognized its honoree and keynote speaker, Derrick J. Robinson, acting Suffolk County Court judge presiding over Drug Court and Mental Health Court. He is also president-elect of the Suffolk County Bar Association. 

The theme of this year’s Black History Month celebration was African Americans and the Vote. The evening included musical performances by the Brookhaven NAACP, the Faith Baptist Church Choir and Taylor Niles, as well as a dance performance by Eugenia Woods. 

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie M. Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), the first woman of African American descent to serve on the Town Board, also serves as the Town Board Liaison to the Town’s Black History Commission. 

The Black History Commission’s next event is the 6th Annual Juneteenth Celebration June 20.

Northville Industries is located on Beach Street in Port Jefferson, where barges full of oil come to dock and unload the fuel, which is pumped through pipelines to a location in East Setauket and then to Holtsville. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven has renewed leases on two entities in Port Jefferson Harbor, but one of those operations has local environmentalists a little concerned.

The Town voted unanimously Jan. 30 to renew the lease for the Port Jefferson/Setauket Yacht Club (which is more known as simply the Port Jefferson Yacht Club) as well as the Melville-headquartered Northville Industries for use in its underwater and uplands properties on the eastern end of the harbor. The licensee has operated in that location since 1975, according to Town attorney Annette Eaderesto.

The yacht club’s lease has gone up to $35,100 for 20 years with a 3 percent annual increase. The club’s land includes around .892 acre underwater and 2.723 acres upland, including the club facilities.

“Oil transport is inherently a dirty operation.”

— George Hoffman

Northville’s operation has oil being brought in on ship or barge to the Port Jeff terminal, where it is shipped via either of two 16-inch pipelines up to its storage farm in East Setauket before moving on to a Holtsville terminal via a 12-inch pipeline, according to the company’s website. 

The oil transport company’s lease now increases to $77,322 based on a new appraisal, which includes around $40K for the underwater portion and around $37K for the upland portion. The company has agreed to pay slightly more than what the upland portion was appraised for. The 20-year term is set to increase annually by 3 percent. The company has had the lease since 1975, and the Town attorney said the company has not had any claims against the town.

George Hoffman, the co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, said he had several concerns over the company’s continued engagement with the harbor. His group has been doing more and more testing of the Port Jefferson harbor in the past two years, having just finished the second season of testing. He asked for strict liability regarding the oil transport company.

“Oil transport is inherently a dirty operation,” he said. “There’s always tiny spills, no matter how hard they work there is always going to be problems.”

Eaderesto said Northville does not post a bond in case of any ruptures, and any spills are handled by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Miller Marine Services, a regional company with a site right next to the oil transport company, is there for immediate response. 

Steven Ripp, the chief operating officer of NIC Holding Corp., the parent company of Northville, denied there has been any leaking or spills into the harbor from their operations, further arguing the company would be able to contain any major spills into the immediate area of their operations on the harbor’s east end.

“There are never any minor spills, not even a gallon,” he said. “If there is a spillage whatsoever, we have to immediately report it to DEC and take swift action.”

Northville has been previously cited by the DEC. In 1987, Northville notified the DEC of a gasoline leak at its East Setauket site of approximately 1.2 million gallons that had leaked into the ground over a 10-year period. That gasoline had penetrated into the ground and reached the water table 100 feet below the surface. 

The company had settled with the DEC for a $25 million cleanup plan after the spill. In 2006, after a long and complicated cleanup process, the DEC reported Northville had completed all remediation.

In a later interview, Hoffman said he came away from the public hearing with more concerns, not less, especially concerning the overall health of the Port Jefferson Harbor and the age of the pipelines running over into East Setauket.

“This is going to be potentially 30 years — I didn’t feel comfortable about that,” he said.

When asked, the general manager at Northville, Peter St. Germaine, did not relate anything about the age of the pipe, instead saying it is frequently inspected by the state. 

“There are never any minor spills, not even a gallon.”

— Steven Ripp

A spokesperson for the state DEC said the agency inspects the facilities for petroleum bulk storage and major oil storage facility regulations. Recent inspections were performed in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2018. The DEC also conducts a review of the facility license renewal application, testing of certain tanks and secondary containment areas, and groundwater results from 12 monitoring wells at the East Setauket location, as well as two monitoring wells at the Beach Street site. The wells are sampled every six months.

Eaderesto said the town is able to back out of any lease at any time should the need arise. 

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he is aware of the need for attention paid to Port Jefferson Harbor, especially considering the effluent from both Stony Brook University and Port Jeff treatment plants flows into the harbor as well.

Ripp said the location received hundreds of barges of oil a year, and through their pipelines run hundreds of millions of gallons, “safely” every year. 

“It is a critical facility for the Town of Brookhaven,” he added.

Northville isn’t the only industrial company to work close to the harbor. Along Beach Street in Port Jeff the Tilcon quarry is constantly operating with heavy moving equipment. The area also includes the LIPA power station to the north of both operations.   

Romaine said his concern was the location and that the lease would conflict with plans of a joint venture of Ørsted and Eversource to make Port Jeff a hub for planned wind turbines off the coast of Montauk. However, the town attorney said the lease is just an extension of a lease that has been in effect for several years.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she had initial concerns regarding community comments and ensuring proper liability coverage, but those concerns had been assuaged by the town law department, and she thanked the company for, “being a good licensee over the years.”

Both leases for upland and underwater land were set to expire April 30, 2020. The new license terms go 20 years with the availability of two 5-year extension options for the town.

Brookhaven resident and avid hunter John German speaks to the Town and DEC about the need for more places to hunt. Photo by Kyle Barr

With villages like Belle Terre and Port Jefferson taking steps in handling the issue of deer in their municipalities, Town of Brookhaven representatives say there’s things they can do at the Town level to stop the scourge of deer and their impact on the local environment.

At a forum hosted by Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and representatives of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, residents were split on how to handle the overwhelming deer population, but no one questioned whether their impact has been felt far and wide, whether it’s from them simply eating people’s gardens or the mass depletion of saplings and bushes in Long Island forests.

Leslie Lupo, left, a biologist for the state DEC, and DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo speaks on Deer. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We have not played an active role in respect to deer management,” Cartright said. “It is an issue within our Town, and we can’t rely solely on our villages. So, it’s a question of how can we work with the villages, or how we can do something on our own.”

Leslie Lupo, a big game wildlife biologist for the DEC, said that, despite some misconceptions, deer do very well living in a suburban landscape such as Long Island, especially since they have no natural predators. They are polygamous and have short gestation periods, which means, unchecked, their population continues to grow.

“No management means more and more deer,” Lupo said.

Despite residents’ constant complaints of deer eating plants and vegetables at people’s homes and gardens, deer have had an even more major impact on Long Island’s forests and biodiversity, the biologist said. Many of the saplings in forests have been eaten by deer, and their favoring of ground plants has meant the loss of habitat for some songbird species. 

“They are a huge changer of their own habitat,” she added. “Deer will just eat everything here and move on to the next property.”

Cartright said the forum was an example of one of the first steps the DEC provides in its deer management guide, originally published in 2012, in starting to make change. Over the last several years, the deer issue has ballooned into near-crisis proportions. While state officials said they cannot give estimates of the number of deer on Long Island, due to migration and other mitigating factors, the total number of deer shot and tagged by hunters in Suffolk County is around 3,200-3,400 in the last five years.

Multiple North Shore villages have gotten ahead of towns in dealing directly with the deer issue. Belle Terre, for example, has been allowing residents to bring in hunters onto their properties as long as they conform to state laws regarding setbacks from other properties. Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak said this has already made a significant impact in the village’s deer population.

What More Can Be Done?

With the need to reduce deer population clear, the two major schools of thoughts are to either encourage recreational hunting or professional culls or by surgical or chemical sterilization. Lupo favored hunting, citing mixed-at-best results from sterilization initiatives.

Lupo called recreational hunting the most utilized tool for the DEC and said it is “safe and effective” with a large bowhunting culture on Long Island. Even with nonlethal alternatives, she suggested it would be more effective combined with lethal removal.

Both Lupo and several hunters who came to the Jan. 30 meeting said, despite areas which have been opened up with cooperative agreements with the DEC, there are many parts of the Island where they are restricted from hunting. 

Not all municipal lands allow access. While the setback for bowhunters between properties was changed from 500 feet in 2012 to 150 feet a few years later, hunters said there are only a few public properties on which they can actually hunt. The archery season, which runs from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31, is much longer than the shotgun season, which only runs from Jan. 4 to Jan. 31 and requires a Town permit or landowner consent form. The DEC’s tagging system essentially allows for “an unlimited harvest of deer,” Lupo said. “The harvest has been increasing and increasing to go along with our increased population.”

Though DEC officials said some harvest years are better than others, and some are worse than others since various conditions can impact harvest rates, such as weather.

John German, of the Brookhaven hamlet and an avid hunter, said that, despite there being a large hunting crowd, the number of deer does not seem to have stymied. He and other hunters complained about Town-owned lands in which they are unable to hunt. 

“There’s more deer now than there ever was,” German said.

Some called for the Town when it buys land for municipal purposes to allow hunters on that property, but Cartright said the majority of space the Town acquires is small and not conducive to hunting.

Lupo said that residents or the Town could start organizing hunts and allow residents to interact with them to allay fears, but other residents strongly supported sterilization initiatives, including Elaine Maas, a board member of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, who pointed to data from Hastings-on-Hudson and its chemical contraceptive program, which from 2014 to 2018 sterilized about 60 deer, which the city described as about 75 percent of the population. 

Maas also said she has had issues with hunters on a neighboring property for years and described being “confined” in her own home during hunting season.

Surgical sterilization can cost as much as $1,000 per deer, while chemical sterilization can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000. At minimum, 75-90 percent of females would need to be treated to see some effect. Lupo also said another issue is that, in an uncontrolled setting, deer often migrate to and away from some areas, meaning that some chemical sterilization techniques that require multiple treatments become that much harder.

“Maybe it will prove to be more beneficial in the future,” she said.

Cartright said the next step is to get the rest of the Town council on board. While the board could form a committee in the future, there’s a few “low hanging fruit,” including doing a survey and speaking with villages and her fellow board members. She also mentioned changing Town code regarding fencing to make more residents able to buy higher barriers on property.

This post has been amended Feb. 13 to correct Lupo’s comment on managing deer, also to change “incubation period” to “gestation period” and add context to another of Lupo’s quotes.