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Village of Belle Terre

The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees was back before the public Monday night, Sept. 18, for a business meeting spanning roughly two hours and covering a range of local matters.

Parking pilot program

With Deputy Mayor Rebecca Kassay as the lone dissenter, the board passed an amended resolution 4-1 enabling the issuance of parking permits for Belle Terre residents to park in metered spaces.

In this pilot program, which will last for the remainder of the 2023 calendar year, parking passes for Belle Terre residents will be offered at a prorated expense of $25. This parking pass does not confer access to the PJV resident lot on Arden Place.

Mayor Lauren Sheprow read an email into the record from Village of Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak, who characterized the parking pass initiative as mutually beneficial to both municipalities.

“For many years, the residents of Belle Terre have said that they would spend much more time in the village of Port Jefferson if they could have a simple and inexpensive way to park,” the email read. “Any solution you choose to adopt would be much appreciated by the residents of Belle Terre and would, I am sure, prove to be a financial benefit to the businesses of Port Jefferson.”

Outlining reasons for the program, Sheprow said the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District unanimously supported the proposal.

Trustee Drew Biondo considered the parking pass program “cost-neutral and revenue-producing.”

In supporting the motion, trustee Bob Juliano suggested that the pilot program offers 11 weeks to test and evaluate the program: “It doesn’t mean I’m going to approve it going forward, but let’s try it for the 11 weeks and let’s see what it produces,” he said.

Explaining her “no” vote, Kassay indicated that parking accommodations for village employees remain unresolved.

“For years, I’ve heard consistent requests from Port Jefferson business owners asking the village to consider making parking passes available to their employees who are spending $1.50 per hour to go to work,” the deputy mayor said in a subsequent email. “A solution for this concept, as well as the concept of parking permits for nonresident visitors, deserves a great deal of time and discussion from the village board, staff and community at large.”

She added, “I hope the 2024 paid parking season in PJV will begin with a convenient, comprehensive parking permit program for recreational visitors and local employees alike.”

QR code scam

Parking and mobility administrator Kevin Wood updated the board of a recent scam targeting some of the village’s metered parking signs.

“Some group of people or person — most likely this weekend — placed perfectly square, fraudulent QR codes over the existing QR code on some of the signs,” Wood told the board.

Those who scanned the fraudulent code “were offered a flat fee parking rate of $20,” Wood said, adding, “We don’t know exactly how many people were defrauded, but I will tell you we caught it very early Saturday night.”

Wood estimated approximately 12-15 parking signs had been tampered with, maintaining that all fake QR codes had been removed. He added that a detailed report on the incident was sent to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Proposed schedule change

The board debated a proposal to move its regular meetings from Monday to Thursday.

Village clerk Sylvia Pirillo said the existing meeting schedule often conflicts with holidays, adding that there are other logistical challenges for village staff.

“We’re recommending instead the second and final Thursday of each month” for board of trustees meetings, Pirillo said. “We also feel that for staff and for work product that this would be a more consistent schedule. We now have warrants that are once a month, and this would help with the processing.”

Biondo supported the schedule change, saying, “It’s good to try something new. If it doesn’t work, we can caucus and decide to go back.”

Kassay referred to the logic for changing the schedule as “sound.” However, she asked the board to consider public feedback before adopting the change.

“I, as a trustee, have learned that making large, sweeping decisions like this without giving the public a chance to have their voices heard is often greeted quite negatively,” the deputy mayor said.

The board did not hold a vote on the change of schedule.

New treasurer

The village’s new treasurer, Stephen Gaffga, attended his first board meeting Monday night, delivering a brief report on his plans for the office.

Moving forward, Gaffga said he would present monthly financials, including fund balance information, expenses and revenues, also budget transfers. He proposed some changes to office procedures.

“I want to be able to tighten up the procurement procedures here a little bit to be able to allow for more transparency in how the money is being spent — taxpayer money, country club money, capital funds — and to also allow more clarity when it comes to the warrants,” he said. “I think the more information there is, the better.”

To watch the entire meeting, including trustee reports, please see the video above.

Industrial dredging vessels such as this were used to remove sand from the Belle Terre coastline, wiping out large sections of territory. This drove residents of the area to incorporate as a village in 1931. File photo from Pixabay

Nearly six decades ago, the residents of Port Jefferson made a pivotal decision: to incorporate as a village.

On a snowy day Dec. 7, 1962, villagers voted 689-361 in favor of incorporation. After court challenges, the vote was made official in April 1963.

Philip Griffith, co-editor of Port Jefferson Historical Society’s newsletter, said the incorporation of Port Jeff had been under discussion as early as 1960.

“At that time, Port Jefferson was part of the Town of Brookhaven,” Griffith said in a phone interview. “They were concerned that things happening in Brookhaven were being done independently of the residents of Port Jefferson. A lot of people were starting to feel, ‘Why don’t we incorporate as Belle Terre had done.’ Then we can make our own decisions, we can raise our own money through taxation and we can use those tax monies locally.” He added, “Instead of relying on representatives of the Town of Brookhaven, we would have our own elected representatives, all of whom would be residents of the village.”

While there were many proponents of incorporation, Griffith said there were also persuasive arguments made in opposition: “The main arguments against were people having a fear of leaving Brookhaven and not having the ability to raise sufficient finances to carry a village.” He added that opponents of incorporation were mainly driven by fear: “Fear of something that’s new, fear of change, fear of losing the umbrella of Brookhaven — and the fear of going on out your own.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Photo from Englebright’s Facebook page

Legacy of Belle Terre

This week, TBR News Media sat down with state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who shared his perspective of the legacy of incorporation in Port Jefferson and beyond. 

One of the first village incorporations in the area was Belle Terre, a coastal community preyed upon by industrial dredgers. In the early 1920s, hydraulic sand miners dredged large swaths of Belle Terre’s coastline to support the growing concrete industry which helped in the expansion of New York City.

“The sand had to come from somewhere and it came in the 1920s and ’30s mostly from the North Shore of Long Island,” Englebright said. “It was very threatening to the people who had homes and dreams of continuing to live in those homes and pass those homes on to their children. They lived in fear of having the sandy grounds under their homes sandblasted away.”

“The sand had to come from somewhere and it came in the 1920s and ’30s mostly from the North Shore of Long Island.” — Steve Englebright

Endangered by the sand miners right in their backyards, the residents of Belle Terre were advised to incorporate. 

“The relationship with the town had become fraught because the town was basically trading against the best interests of the people who lived where the resources were extractable,” the assemblyman said. “It was clear that sand dredging was a real threat to the quality of life for these North Shore communities.” He added, “It wasn’t just Brookhaven that was trading against the best interests of the North Shore residents, but all of the towns were doing this.”

After its successful incorporation in 1931, mining in Belle Terre had stopped altogether. 

The incorporation movement 

Port Jefferson accommodated a prosperous shipbuilding industry from the 1790s until the 1920s. After it wound down, the residents of the area were left with little choice but to adapt to the changing circumstances. 

With the construction of a new power plant between 1948 and 1960, villagers were motivated to incorporate to draw from this as a revenue stream. “They said if they incorporated as a village, they would be able to draw some revenue from that industrial facility and it would only be fair because they were hosting that facility and it served all of the town,” Englebright said. “They rationalized that it would be reasonable to draw the tax benefits from the imposition of such a heavily industrialized facility because it served for improving the quality of life for the village, most particularly the school district.”

This is the first story of a series on the incorporation of the Village of Port Jefferson. If you would like to contribute to this continuing series, please email [email protected]. 

Correction: In the original version of this story, it was reported: “The first village incorporation in the area was Belle Terre.” This statement is historically incorrect as Old Field had incorporated in 1927, four years before the incorporation of Belle Terre in 1931.

A view of Port Jefferson Harbor from Harborfront Park. File photo by Elana Glowatz

On Wednesday, April 13, two guest speakers presented to the Port Jefferson Harbor Commission on the state of Port Jeff Harbor and its future.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, shared the history of the harbor commission over the last two decades.

“Up until 2000, the commission hadn’t been created and every village kind of did its own thing and the [Town of Brookhaven] did its own thing,” he said. “You had overlapping regulations in terms of boat speeds and where you could clam and where you could moor.”

This changed after the 2000 Port Jefferson Harbor Management Plan, which directed the various coastal municipalities in the area on how to best manage the harbor. Today, the villages and the town coordinate their efforts through the harbor commission, which harmonizes laws to monitor boating safety, establish mooring fields and regulate maritime traffic. While the villages have succeeded in these areas, Hoffman suggests the commission now has the experience and know-how to devote greater attention to water quality.

“Now that you have all of the other issues kind of resolved, I think now it’s time to consider how this commission can start to help manage the harbor itself as an environmental entity,” Hoffman said.

MS4 regulations

During the first hour of a storm event, rain often carries harmful contaminants from lawns, roads and sidewalks, discharging oils, bacteria and particulate metals into nearby surface waters. This phenomenon poses a hazard to marine life.

In an effort to reduce contamination of surface waters during storm events, new state regulations will require coastal municipalities to develop a more comprehensive stormwater management program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released guidelines regulating small municipal stormwater sewer systems, known as MS4s.

“I actually think that the Port Jeff Harbor Commission could be a great vehicle to help all the municipalities comply.”

— George Hoffman

Under the existing policy, local governments are given wide latitude over the maintenance of their MS4s. “In the ’50s and ’60s, we never really gave a thought about stormwater — we just figured if it goes into the harbor, then it will dilute and everything will be fine,” Hoffman said. “We found out that that’s just not the way to go. This really has significant impacts.” 

With stricter directives and harsher penalties under these new regulations, Hoffman noted the need for personnel: “That’s never a good thing for municipalities because you have to fund those positions and budgets are always tough no matter where you are.” He added that the Port Jefferson Harbor Commission — which includes officials from the town as well as the villages of Port Jefferson, Belle Terre, Poquott and Old Field — already have the infrastructure in place through the commission to coordinate their efforts in complying with these directives. 

“I actually think that the Port Jeff Harbor Commission could be a great vehicle to help all the municipalities comply,” Hoffman said. “If every village has to go out and hire its own computer programmer to do the mapping of the stormwater, and has to hire somebody to run the public meetings and has to identify all the groups that are interested — it seems to me that it would be better if we all pulled together through this commission and handle all of our MS4 responsibilities together.” 

Acknowledging the limitations of an all-volunteer commission, Hoffman’s plan would have the various villages appropriate funds to hire part-time personnel to oversee MS4 regulatory compliance: “This can actually save your villages money because if everybody pools their resources together, you can probably just get one person in here — and it wouldn’t even have to be a full-time position — to help manage the MS4 regulations.”

Public outreach is also a major component of these new guidelines. Hoffman said that under the current policy, public hearings are not mandated. Now, municipalities must hold public hearings to identify the stakeholders in their areas and report on the quality of their surface waters. Again, Hoffman said the commission can make it easier to satisfy this condition.

With greater emphasis on water quality, he said the commission can also tap into the Long Island Sound Study, a program that offers grants to protect and restore the Sound.

“The Long Island Sound Study has been in existence now for 20 years,” Hoffman said. “It’s a pact between Connecticut and New York and all of the federal monies for the Long Island Sound go through it.” Referring to the Setauket Harbor Task Force, he added, “Our group is part of the Citizens Advisory Committee and we’re very active members of that group — that’s the one that gives out the grants for $10 million.”

Planting oysters and clams

Alan Duckworth, environmental analyst with the Town of Brookhaven, also addressed the commission during the meeting. His presentation highlighted a recent undertaking by the town to improve water quality of its harbors through the planting of large numbers of oysters and clams.

In recent years, the town has attempted to strengthen its understanding of the quality of its harbors and bays, and also the pathogens and contaminants that pollute them. While traditional testing indicates that the quality of Port Jeff Harbor has improved, Duckworth notes some notable deficiencies in these testing schemes.

“There are so many pathogens in Port Jeff Harbor and elsewhere,” he said. “Some of them are from humans, but a lot of them are from water fowl. DEC does checks for pathogens and uses E. coli as a marker.” However, acknowledging the limitations of these tests, he added, “They don’t separate human E. coli from avian E. coli. Obviously some of the pathogens are coming from human waste, but a lot of it could be coming from birds.”

The town grows approximately 1.5 million oysters and another 1.5 million clams every year that it puts out into various harbors and bays. The addition of these shellfish populations aids the local fishing industry as well as recreational shellfishing. 

The oyster and clam populations serve as “filter feeders,” flushing harmful contaminants from the waters and spitting out filtered water. These shellfish have a beneficial impact on water quality, according to Duckworth. 

The town’s planting activities also attempt to restore the natural populations that once flourished along the Island coastline. “What we see today is only a fragment of what used to occur around Long Island in the bays and harbors,” Duckworth said, adding, “Through disease and through overfishing, in some areas the natural populations are 1% of what they used to be. We put out oysters and clams to hopefully kickstart the next generation.”

“About 100,000 oysters are removing about 50% of the microalgae, which is a fantastic result.”

— Alan Duckworth

With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund, the town has been able to track the effects of these shellfish populations on the quality of its surface waters. Measuring water quality with an instrument called a sonde, researchers performed two experiments — one within an area of 100,000 oysters in Port Jeff Harbor and another approximately 60 feet away from the oysters, which served as the control. Measuring the removal of microalgae by the oysters, the researchers found “about 100,000 oysters are removing about 50% of the microalgae, which is a fantastic result,” Duckworth said. 

In a separate test for turbidity, a measure of the number of sediments floating around in the water, he said, “They also remove about 50% of these sediments, which improves water clarity. That’s really important for photosynthetic organisms and things that require sunlight.” Duckworth added, “If you have 10 feet of dirty water, all of the things that live on the bottom and require sunlight can’t photosynthesize. When you clean that water, it’s really important for the animals and plants that live there.”

A final experiment tested whether these plantings have any effect on restoring the natural populations of shellfish in the harbor. The researchers put out bags of empty oysters shells and found that baby oysters began to move into those shells, an indicator that the planted oysters are adapting to their new environment.

“The oysters that we put out are now adults, they’re now producing larvae, and those larvae are actually finding places to settle, in this case the oyster shells,” Hoffman said. “They‘re actually reseeding Port Jeff Harbor.”

Reflecting upon these studies, Hoffman concluded that the work being done is having a positive effect on water quality and points to an optimistic future of the harbor. “This is a good story,” he said. “We’re showing that, yes, the oysters that we put out are cleaning the water, but they’re also helping to reseed and restock the natural populations that we all want to bring back.”

Construction of a retaining wall to fortify the toe of the East Beach bluff is expected to begin this year. Photo by Carolyn Sackstein

By Carolyn Sackstein

In a continuing effort to report on bluff erosion near the Port Jefferson Country Club at Harbor Hills, TBR News Media reached out to the Village of Port Jefferson to discuss the recent visit by assessors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  

Village administrator, Joe Palumbo, detailed FEMA’s visit to the village. He said the inspectors were assigned to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida last September to the recharge basins on Oakwood Road, Port Jefferson. 

“FEMA’s recent visit was to inspect and assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida to the large and small recharge basins on Oakwood Road,” Palumbo said. “For some reason, this group of FEMA inspectors were not assigned to inspect the bluff project.” Adding that he hoped to get more clarity on FEMA’s plans, he said, “I had a call with FEMA to find out why and whether they are coming back to inspect [the bluff]. I hope to have a response to these questions on, or before, my next call with them.”

In an emailed statement, the village administrator provided additional historical context surrounding this issue. He described the difficulties of working with governmental agencies that lacked the sense of urgency necessary to secure the village’s assets in a timely manner.

“The village was unable to take action to stabilize the bluff until it received permits to do so from [the Department of Environmental Conservation] and Army Corps of Engineers,” he said. “It has been a long process. We submitted our permit to DEC in 2018 and received [approval] this past June.” 

Palumbo was also asked about the concerns raised by village residents, who want a public hearing and referendum on the matter. According to him, the village has worked closely with a coastal engineer who has provided an informed assessment of the proposed projects at East Beach.

“The village has been working vigorously with an experienced and qualified coastal engineer to develop a plan that will stabilize the bluff and protect the village asset that sits atop the bluff,” Palumbo said. “This plan has been presented and approved by a majority of the Board of Trustees, and is the plan that we believe is the best to preserve the bluff for many decades to come.”

Port Jefferson is not alone in its struggle against coastal erosion. Belle Terre is also taking up measures to counteract erosion of its beaches and mitigate storm damage. When asked if there was any intergovernmental cooperation between the villages of Port Jefferson and Belle Terre, Palumbo acknowledged the limitations of coordinating village responses.

“The Village of Belle Terre is a separate entity,” he said. “Our engineers had reviewed the measures taken and material used in Belle Terre, but believe the plan developed and materials being used to stabilize our bluff is the right plan that will last for decades to come.”

While the Port Jeff Board of Trustees has already approved a $10 million bond for the two-phased bluff project, Palumbo said the village is actively seeking grant funding that may subsidize the initiative significantly. 

“The village is looking at several funding opportunities, including through FEMA disaster declarations under Tropical Storm Isaias [last August] and Hurricane Ida; discretionary funds through Congressman Lee Zeldin [R-NY1] and Senator Chuck Schumer’s [D-NY] offices; and the [FEMA] Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.”

The Old Homestead stood near the corner of what is now Port Jefferson’s Winston Drive and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Photo by Arthur S. Greene; Photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

What is now Belle Terre, coupled with an area in today’s Port Jefferson, once comprised the 1200-acre Oakwood estate.

Surrounded on three sides by water, the property featured a country house, tilled land, woodlots, a hothouse, fruit and nut trees, sheepfolds, springs, an icehouse, a dairy, pigpens, barns and outbuildings.

The estate even included a private cemetery, the Sugar Loaf Burying Grounds, where some of Oakwood’s workers and their family members had been interred.

Mary B. Strong, known as “Lady Strong,” presided over the estate. In 1880, she was considered the wealthiest woman in Brookhaven Town, where she numbered among its largest taxpayers.

Oakwood is depicted on this portion of J. Chace’s 1858 Map of Suffolk County, L.I., New York. Photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

William A. Hopkins and Charles A. Davis, Miss Strong’s trusted overseers, supervised day-to-day operations at Oakwood, everything from milking cows to cutting cordwood.

Lady Strong and her servants lived at the estate’s Old Homestead which stood near the corner of what is now Port Jefferson’s Winston Drive and Crystal Brook Hollow Road.

A short walk from tranquil Mount Sinai Harbor, the country house was the scene of elegant parties hosted by Miss Strong and surrounded by grounds lovingly tended by a gardener.

Responsible outdoorsmen were welcomed at Oakwood, where they hiked its shaded paths, hunted, trapped and gathered berries. Vacationers from Bridgeport, Connecticut sailed across Long Island Sound and pitched tents on the property at Camp Woodbine, while day-trippers picnicked on the estate at Saints Orchard.

After Lady Strong’s death on April 9, 1885, Oakwood reverted to her nephews, but through neglect, the once well-maintained estate went to ruin.

In spring 1901, surveyors were seen marking Oakwood’s boundaries and that winter advertisements had appeared in the New York Times announcing the property’s sale.

The Old Homestead stood near the corner of what is now Port Jefferson’s Winston Drive and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. 
Photo by Arthur S. Greene; Photo from Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Clinton L. Rossiter, vice president of the Long Island Loan and Trust Company, purchased Oakwood from Mary B. Strong’s heirs in 1902. Rossiter represented a group of investors who planned to build a “private residence park,” known today as Belle Terre, on the land.

Over the ensuing years, the site was developed, and the Old Homestead was destroyed in a suspicious fire, leaving only street names such as Oakwood Road as reminders of Lady Strong and her vast estate.

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson Village Historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

Stock photo by Kyle Barr

Belle Terre residents came out Tuesday to vote on two trustee positions, where Richard Harris beat incumbent Dr. Caroline Engelhardt.

According to village clerk Joanne Raso, 225 ballots were cast on June 15. Harris, along with incumbent Dr. Richard Musto, on the Citizens Party platform, took the two titles home: Harris with 136 votes and Musto with 159; Engelhardt received 112 votes

Musto has been a resident of Belle Terre for over 30 years. Now ready for his third term, he previously told TBR News Media he brings 70-plus years of life experience to the table. “I have a strong interest in the village,” he said. “I want to keep it going — I enjoy living here.”

Harris had said he previously never wanted to work in politics, but saw that change was needed in Belle Terre. He said he plans on using his 20 years of professional experience to make the village better.

“I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the village where I live,” he said. 

After moving to Belle Terre with his wife seven years ago, “We could not think of a better place to raise our family,” he said. He is the father of two school-age boys.

Photo from Richard Harris

Harris said he  has served as counsel to town and village boards, planning and zoning boards, conservation boards, public safety commissions, code enforcement and emergency management departments and agencies conducting internal affairs. Currently, he serves as Port Jefferson deputy village attorney and Belle Terre special prosecutor. 

Since moving to Belle Terre, he has served on the traffic safety committee, where he recommended traffic calming measures on Cliff Road, helped build a second kayak rack at Knapp Beach and served on the recently reconvened marina committee. 

After the announcement of his win, Harris said he is honored that his neighbors in Belle Terre elected him as their trustee.

“The role of a trustee in a small village is to ensure that quality of life issues are constantly monitored and addressed efficiently,” he said. “With this in mind, and as I promised during my candidacy, I will be getting to work immediately with the rest of the board to address traffic safety issues, environmental concerns and beach improvements, as well as other pending matters.”

Harris wanted to thank everyone who gave him the chance to continue contributing to the village.

“I’d also like to publicly acknowledge and thank Dr. Caroline Engelhardt for her service to the community, both as a trustee and, even more importantly, as a doctor on the frontlines,” he said. “Her contributions and concern for all of us cannot be overstated.”

Stock photo by Kyle Barr

On Tuesday, June 15, Village of Belle Terre residents can vote in the election for two trustee positions. 

This year’s candidates are incumbent Richard Musto on the Citizens Party ballot, with newcomer Richard Harris. Incumbent Caroline Engelhardt is on the Residents Party ballot.

Musto has been a resident of Belle Terre for over 30 years. Running for his third term, Musto said he brings 70-plus years of life experience to the table. 

“I have a strong interest in the village,” he said. “I want to keep it going — I enjoy living here.”

Before his retirement, he spent two years of service in the Navy, with one year of sea duty and a second year at the Naval Air Station in San Diego, with a rank of lieutenant commander.  

After his residency at Downstate Medical Center, he joined a urology group in Port Jefferson in 1977 and remained there until 2014. 

Since then, he has been president of the medical staff at St. Charles Hospital and Peconic Bay Medical Center. Musto has been chief of urology at Mather Hospital, and a member of the board of trustees at Peconic Bay Medical Center for the last 15 years.

Richard Harris is running for his first term as trustee and said he can bring 20 years of professional experience. 

“I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the village where I live,” he said. 

After moving to Belle Terre with his wife seven years ago, “We could not think of a better place to raise our family,” he said. He is the father of two school-aged boys.

Photo from Richard Harris

Harris said he  has served as counsel to town and village boards, planning and zoning boards, conservation boards, public safety commissions, code enforcement and emergency management departments and agencies conducting internal affairs. Currently, he serves as Port Jefferson deputy village attorney and Belle Terre special prosecutor. 

Since moving to Belle Terre, he has served on the traffic safety committee, where he recommended traffic calming measures on Cliff Road, helped build a second kayak rack at Knapp Beach and served on the recently reconvened Marina Committee. If elected, he has a list of goals he plans to accomplish.

“I know how to make government work for all residents,” he said. “I will use my expertise and my municipal and law enforcement contacts to improve traffic safety in the village, to address erosion and water runoff issues, add amenities to our village beaches, and examine options to fund and build a village marina.”

Caroline Engelhardt has lived in her home in Belle Terre for the last 23 years. After from New York College of Osteopathic Medical School in 1988, she did her first two years of residency in anesthesiology at Beth Israel Medical Center/Mt. Sinai in New York City, followed by a third year at the University Medical Center of Pittsburgh and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. After residency, she became a partner with Long Island Anesthesia Physicians in Port Jefferson and has been a senior partner for over 25 years serving patients at St. Charles Hospital, Mather Hospital, Peconic Bay Medical Center and Mercy Hospital. 

Engelhardt has served on several boards and volunteered with Doctors Without Borders. She is a teaching faculty member at Northwell/Hofstra Medical School.

Engelhardt did not respond to TBR News prior to press time. 

Residents can vote for two of these three candidates from 12 p.m. until 9 p.m. at the Community Center in Belle Terre. 

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One newcomer and one incumbent elected to Port Jeff Village Board

Stock photo by Kyle Barr

In a contentious race between a slate of newcomers and longtime incumbents, it was the old guard who won out in the end.

Current Mayor Bob Sandak got 280 votes to challenger Enrico Scarda’s 169. Scarda is the president and founder of The Crest Group development agency which owns multiple properties around the Port Jeff area, including Danfords Hotel & Marina and The Waterview at the Port Jefferson Country Club. Sandak has been mayor since 2016, and has previously worked as a school administrator for multiple districts on Long Island.

The morning after the votes were counted, Sandak said in a phone interview he was glad the election is over, and moving forward he has already spoken to the other candidates “to arrange meetings and get their thoughts on what they wanted to accomplish — it’s always good to have new ideas,” he added. “We just want to move forward.”

In a statement, Scarda said he remains positive. He congratulated Sandak on his win and offered to assist the village should the admin want any help. He added regarding future elections that, “If the residents want me involved I will be there for them.”

“I will continue to stay involved with the village administration,” Scarda said. “Belle Terre needs residents to get involved and help Bob and the trustees to move the village forward.”

On the trustee side, incumbent trustees Sheila Knapp and Jacquelyn Gernaey won back their seats with 315 and 272 votes, respectively. Newcomer candidate Peter Colucci, a 12-year village resident, gained 128 votes. Fellow newcomer Lou Bove, the president and CEO of East Setauket-based contractor Bove Industries, gained 124 votes.

Poll workers the night of the vote Sept. 15 said this was the most attention any Belle Terre election has had in at least a few decades, especially for a village with just a little under 800 residents. Village Clerk Joanne Raso said they were up until midnight counting votes, which included two write-in votes and 73 absentee ballots.

Port Jefferson Village Elections

On the Port Jeff side, one incumbent and one newcomer trustee candidate have been elected to the village board. Both seats were uncontested after nine-year trustee Bruce D’Abramo announced this would be his last term on the board.

Rebecca Kassay, a local activist and owner of The Fox & Owl Inn in Port Jeff, gained 103 votes. Incumbent trustee Bruce Miller won 114 votes.

A total of 171 votes were cast, including 10 absentee ballots.

The Belle Terre village board. File photo by Kyle Barr

With two trustee seats and the mayoral position up for election in the Village of Belle Terre, three individuals have thrown their hats into the ring along with the three incumbents. 

This year, incumbent Mayor Bob Sandak is joined by Deputy Mayor Sheila Knapp and Trustee Jacquelyn Gernaey. Opposing them are newcomers Enrico Scarda, who’s running for mayor, along with trustee candidates Peter Colucci and Lou Bove.

The mayoral race has already started to heat up in anticipation for the Sept. 15 voting date. Ballots can be cast at the Belle Terre Village Hall from 12 to 9 p.m.

Mayor

Enrico Scarda

Enrico Scarda

Scarda, the president and founder of the Crest Group development agency, said he is running to help bolster local property values and update how the village communicates with residents. 

“We’re all getting up in age and want to sell our homes to downsize, and I believe we could do much better with property values than our [competing villages],” Scarda said. “The village has the opportunity here to get an attorney who has experience in the community for free.”

The Crest Group owns multiple properties around the Port Jeff area, including Danford’s Hotel & Marina and The Waterview at the Port Jefferson Country Club. Scarda is a 20-year resident of the village, having moved there with his wife to help raise his three children. With his two sons having already graduated from college they are helping him run the business, and with his daughter also graduating soon as well, he said he has more time to spend caring about local issues.

The village, he said, could do better with its communications efforts, including buffing up its website. He suggested Belle Terre should create a ticket system for things like road repair that can be submitted electronically, such as he has in his business. The village would give updates through the system for when a ticket has been accepted and when a project is complete. 

He added there could be small additions that would make the beach program more attractive, including more renovations to the beach pavilion. 

All these small changes, he said, would go to making the village more attractive, and thereby increasing everyone’s property values. 

His home on Seaside Drive is only one of several Sound-facing homes which are facing issues with eroding bluffs. Scarda said though he has already received permits from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to begin revetment of those bluffs, the village should work with all property owners along that road to shore up the bluffs, especially because fixing one residents’ bluffs will still leave an issue for others all along the shore. It’s not to benefit him or any one person but creating some kind of initiative to do bluff repair would go a long way.

“If one home falls into the sound, the property values of the rest of the village are going to go down,” he said. “If we all did the work at the same time, we could protect that bluff, we would all be safe.”

Similar houses in Belle Terre compared to Old Field are going for a worse rate than their counterparts, he claimed, saying it’s because of small things that are leaving the village in the past.

Other issues for the candidate include safety, as he calls for more cameras including one by the village gate. He also said the village should do more to beautify the roads, including repair and garbage pickup.

Overall, he said his experience would make him a great pick to lead Belle Terre.

“The village is getting an experienced developer who has built communities as large as Belle Terre from the ground up,” he said.

Bob Sandak

Four-year Mayor Sandak has been a village official since he became trustee in 2004. He came on as trustee during Vincent Bove’s 25-year reign, and originally ran unopposed in 2016.

Sandak said he and fellow trustees have already made many strides since the time he’s sat on the board. The mayor is a former school administrator, having worked in districts such as Hicksville, Half Hollow Hills and William Floyd at times overseeing millions of dollars’ worth in construction along with other administrative tasks over 38 years. He said this work has translated well into administrating a small village like Belle Terre.

“We’ve tried to pass codes that make this a nice place to live for everybody,” he said. “Noise is something we deal with — there’s no construction on Saturday and Sunday — we try to make it a nice place to live.”

The village, he said, has done well in creating public/private partnerships to create municipal projects that are partly funded by both residents and Belle Terre. These include the restoration of the gatehouse and entrance wall, the design and construction of the children’s playground, the installation of the walking/cycling track, the reconstruction of the “Circle” at the end of Cliff Road, and most recently the reconstruction of the bathhouse pavilion at Knapp Beach. The latter was originally built in the 1930s and needed to be made handicap accessible. That project, which he said started in concept around two years ago, was done with volunteered architectural designs by a resident and donations from the community. 

The community also donated their time and money to help construct kayak and canoe racks at Knapp Beach. These proved so popular that the village plans to help construct additional racks in the future, along with some mats that people may walk down onto the beach.

In the future, Sandak said Belle Terre needs to be readier to handle potential storms. He said he wants to propose the community center should be turned into a shelter for residents, especially those who lose power in a storm. This would require backup generators for people to use the location as a refuge. 

“We’ve really noticed a real change in weather patterns — we’ve been hit by nor’easters — they really batter us,” he said. “It leads to a lot of road reconstruction.”

In terms of property values, the Belle Terre mayor said the noticeable loss in property values was due to a large number of people who inherited their homes from longtime residents all started putting homes on the market at once, many of whom had not been fixed up since the 1960s. To his knowledge, there are only four houses up for sale in the community, and he expects property values to increase up to levels comparable with similarly sized villages on the North Shore.

Sandak also agreed that erosion around homes on the edge of the Sound was a major issue, though he said he had two years ago proposed to property owners a special taxation area that could help pay back a bond that would be used to fix the erosion issues, but only two of 11 homeowners were interested in that.

“We certainly want to try and help stop the erosion there,” he said. 

Trustees

Sheila Knapp

Sheila Knapp

Knapp, who has spent a lifetime amongst the Belle Terre community, said she is running again to continue to make the village live up to her memories of spending time there as a child.

“A year before I was born my parents bought our home in Belle Terre. It was the most wonderful place to grow up,” she said in an email response to questions. “The beach, the friends, the belonging to a community that was like family … I want everybody to love this place as I do.”

Knapp has been beach commissioner since 1977, trustee since 1997 and deputy mayor since 2004. She said the best part of the village is the natural beauty and peacefulness, and that every board she has served on has had the goal “to keep everybody’s quality of life here at it’s best.”

Close to 70 years ago, when Harbor Hills Country Club was built, she said her father got the land for what is now the current beach, which she has long worked to take care of. Otherwise, she said the village has passed noise and construction ordinances to keep the village serene on the weekends. She said the new wall along the beach parking lot is a “dream come true” and their recently installed cell tower has allowed more reception range throughout the village.

The 43-year beach commissioner said that in the future she would continue on with Belle Terre’s current trajectory.

“Things are not broken here,” she said. “We improved communication and do our best to keep residents informed with the website, meetings, emails and letters. All of the trustees and mayor publish our private phone numbers. We want to be accessible.”

Peter Colucci

Peter Colucci

Colucci, who has lived in Belle Terre along with his wife for 12 years, said he is running because he deeply cares about the community and believes he can improve several aspects of the village.

Two things he’s running on are security and modernizing the village’s communication systems. In 2017 he and his wife were victims of a home invasion and burglary where police at the time said the perpetrators got away with several hundred thousand dollars in cash and jewelry.

“I would like to see modernization in all areas,” Colucci said in an email response to questions. “Simple things are easily done such as upgrading security cameras and increasing communication to all residents especially during times of weather-related emergencies.”

He said he would like to continue with current efforts to keep the beauty and quaintness of the village going, but he said he would also look forward to working on a plan to alleviate the issues with Anchorage Road, where people park all along the road making it dangerous for both cars and pedestrians looking to access McAllister County Park. 

Jacquelyn Gernaey

Jacquelyn Gernaey

Gernaey, who has been on the board of trustees for six years after she was originally appointed to the board, said the best part of being on a board like that in Belle Terre is that “trustees really don’t have a personal agenda, and I like being part of a group that can make changes for the village not personally focused.”

The trustee has lived in the village for 25 years, originally hailing from Kings Park. She said she came to love the community feel of Belle Terre, especially since it emphasized keeping trees and nature serene.

As the fiscal officer in the village, Gernaey said one of the big issues she said is that village residents will be losing out in taxes due to the settlement over the Long Island Power Authority power plant tax certiorari case. Over a 10-year glide path, LIPA’s property taxes will decline, which will necessitate village residents pay more in Port Jefferson School District taxes over time.

“We want to continue to get state grants, something we’ve been very successful in doing,” she said, adding they have gotten several hundred thousand for roads from the state and $800,000 in FEMA aid for storm damage.  

In addition, she said she wants to keep the pressure on Suffolk County to remediate the parking issues with McAllister Park on Anchorage Road. She said they have been working with more county park officers to deter any more parking along that road. 

Erosion issues for houses along the sound are also a major issue. While the village has received a small $100,000 grant towards stabilizing the beach, the issue may be in the near future the whole cliff could start to go, making the homes along the bluff structurally unsound. 

“In the last since we applied, we lost 30 feet,” she said. “That’s something we’re really working on.”

As a founder and CEO of two companies, one a human resource outsourcing company and a small business consulting firm, she jokingly said “she certainly doesn’t need this to keep me busy,” but that “she was always taught to give back.”

“We work hard for the village — all about the village, not about us,” she said.

Lou Bove

Bove is the president and CEO of East Setauket-based contractor Bove Industries and is now seeking a seat on the Belle Terre village board.

The candidate did not return several requests for comment through his company. If he does respond in time for the election, his comments will be put on the website version of this article at tbrnewsmedia.com.

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.