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Village of Northport

Northport businesses prepare for Phase 1 of Long Island's reopening. Photo by Leah Chiappino

By Leah Chiappino

During this time of year, Northport village would normally see swarms of locals, boaters and tourists strolling along Main Street and browsing the artisan boutiques. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the most anyone can do is pick up an item from the front of a village shop or enter the store briefly.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allowed Long Island retail businesses to reopen for curbside and in-store pickup as part of Phase One reopening May 27. Restrictions include allowing only one person at a time down narrow aisles, mandating that customers wear face coverings and keeping 6 feet distance between themselves and others, and allowing no more than 50 percent capacity into a store at any given time.

For small retail boutiques that rely on customers coming in to browse, this is far from ideal.

Northport Chamber of Commerce President Jim Izzo says that village businesses are following all of the restrictions the governor has laid out and are growing more and more hopeful as said restrictions are lifted. Izzo added the village is actively investigating protocols it can put in place to allow businesses to safely reopen when they are able to do so, including allowing restaurants to use public space in order to increase seating capacity.

“A lot of these restaurants only have 14 or 15 tables, if that,” he said. “If you cut their capacity to 50 percent or 25 percent, it’s going to be hard for them to make a living.”

The village saw a fair amount of traffic this weekend due to the nice weather, though Izzo said they are concerned about the amount of visitors not wearing face coverings.

“We’re hoping through signage, reminders and businesses saying they won’t serve [patrons] without a mask will make people realize it’s important,” he said. “ We don’t want to go backwards.”

Izzo said the hope is that things will continue to open up slowly and safely.

“Unfortunately it’s not as quick as we’d like,” he said. “A lot of people are really struggling financially and psychologically. There’s a lot going on. People have put their life into their small businesses. It’s a seasonal community, if they don’t open by Labor Day, I don’t know how many [local businesses] will make it through the winter … It doesn’t seem to be very practical to have Target open, rather than a small business who sells the same thing, and who could probably have more control over who came and went.”

The owner of Nest on Main, a furniture and home decor multivendor artisan market, ​Donna Moschella, said that sales have dropped 86 percent from this time last year. She has been forced to layoff her two part-time employees and stop the classes the store offers on anything from blanket making to cake decorating, which are a large source of revenue. Moschella pointed out that not only is her business being affected, but the over 30 artisans that rent space in her store to sell their handmade products are being impacted to an even greater extent.

”Nest is a small family-owned business, so we’re being impacted, but it’s not just Nest, it’s Nest plus 30,” she said.

The store closed around the time of the statewide stay-at-home orders but began offering shopping and contactless local deliveries in April. With Phase One, Moschella has started offering curbside pickup but has not allowed customers into the store. She says she has placed items outside and in the window, while bringing things to the door in order to assist customers in finding what they’re looking for. Customers can also shop via the store’s social media sites, though online listings can be difficult as most items have limited quantities of specific, handmade items.

“It’s difficult, as you can imagine,” she said. “People peek in, they want to come in. I understand the frustration in customers wanting to come in … It’s not an easy way to shop, but we’re doing what we can do based on what we’re allowed to do. What makes Nest unique is that I hear from customers that they like to come in and spend time in the store. There’s so much to look at, and it changes all the time so that Nest is more of an experience then just a place to shop.”

Moschella said that their current system is merely a matter of trying to “stay afloat,” and that they will have to wait to Phase Two in order to do any substantial business. She added that the store’s landlord has been flexible, allowing for greater ease.

The shop has geared up in preparation for the second phase, having installed plexiglass barricades, widened the aisles to allow for physical distancing and is planning on providing hand sanitizing stations throughout the store. They will require customers to wear masks and will provide them to patrons who do not have one, and will hold smaller classes to allow for greater social distancing when they are able to do so in later phases.

“We’re going to adapt and do whatever is necessary to make people feel comfortable, safe and welcome,” she said.

Despite all of these challenges, Moschella remains hopeful for the future.

“I think one of the good things that may come out of this is that people will find an appreciation for small businesses in their community,” she said. “When you really think about what any Main Street would look like without these small businesses and restaurants, that’s not a pleasant thing to think about.”

Holly Levis-Dolan, the owner of PetPort, is also offering curbside pickup but has been allowed to be open the entire time, because they have been deemed an essential business, as they sell pet food.

Levis-Dolan said customers are allowed up to 6 feet into the store to pick out the products they need. Masks and hand sanitizing are required of all customers. The store is also offering same-day delivery of pet food and will match prices found on Amazon when possible. The store will begin to offer pet grooming at a reduced capacity.

“Normally we do eight to 10 dogs per day, and now we’ll probably do four to five,” the store owner said.

“PetPort’s No. 1 priority is to continue to operate in a safe way to protect our staff and clientele,” Levis- Dolan said. “This is a new reality. We can expect to do 50 percent of the business we did before the pandemic. Our staff will have to work smarter and do with less resources. It’s all hands on deck. This will not be changing anytime soon. The economy will be different for a long while.”

Kathie Kitts, the owner of Artisan House, another boutique in the village, like Moschella, began curbside pickup at the door at the start of Phase One. Kitts said with people out in the village due to the nice weather, she made a substantial amount of sales.

Kitts said that the impacts of the restrictions have been enormous. She even tried to file for unemployment, though she could not get through.

“It’s really very difficult because I have bills at home, and I have bills here,” she said. “I’ve barely made anything since March.”

As part of the relocation plan, eight-graders were sent to Northport High School. File photo

Following the closure of Northport Middle School after elevated levels of benzene were found in two separate septic systems near the building, district officials and the community are adjusting to the relocation of more than 600 middle school students into three different schools.

The plan called for eight-graders to relocate to Northport High School, for seventh-graders to go to East Northport Middle School, and for sixth-graders to settle in at Norwood Avenue Elementary School beginning Jan. 24. 

Superintendent Robert Banzer said the first several days in their new buildings have gone well for NMS students. 

“I was happy to hear of how welcoming each school was to the NMS students on their first days, and I anticipate that their efforts to ensure a caring environment will continue,” he said. “As we move through this transition our families have been extremely patient and flexible.”

Rich Rowehl, a Northport parent who has a daughter in the seventh grade, said the first week of the transition has gone as good as it could have.

“To be able to pull off what they did [in a short amount of time] is a monumental task,” he said. “I commend the district for doing this, and I hope going forward we can find a workable [permanent] solution.”

The transition is still a work in progress, Rowehl said. Parents expressed concerns about crowded lunchrooms and lack of lockers at the board of education meeting that night. Sixth-graders at Norwood Avenue Elementary School don’t have access to lockers. Seventh-graders were moved into a larger cafeteria at ENMS due to the size of the class. The superintendent acknowledged that they are still ironing out some logistical issues.

Rowehl stressed that this is still an ongoing process and there’s a lot that needs to come out. 

“The firm is still conducting tests [at NMS],” he said. “We have to wait to see what else it finds. Then is it safe to return or does the school need to permanently close? We know they found mercury/benzene but what else is there?”

The Northport resident said the committee and district need to continue to be transparent on what the firm finds and strive to find a permanent solution that will make everyone happy. 

Ideas from community members and parents have been floated around. Due to decreasing enrollment in the district, one of the elementary schools could be repurposed as a new middle school, or possibly the William J. Brosnan administrative building could be reopened as a school. Banzer said there has been no discussion of a permanent plan outside of the closure of the building for the remainder of this school year, adding that PW Grosser Consulting will continue its testing and review all data prior to finalizing the report to the district.

 

Despite heavy rains, North Shore residents headed over to the Village of Northport Jan. 25 for its Winterfest at the harbor.

Sponsored by the Northport Chamber of Commerce, the afternoon fun included ice sculptures, costumed characters, raffle prizes, live music, crafts for children and winter-themed treats.

 Prevention Program Sparks Interest in Emphasizing Community Wellness

In 2006, the Northport community created the Drug and Alcohol Task Force. The program today has evolved into an important part of the community. Photo from the Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force

In 2006, at the age of 21, two young adults in Northport died of an opioid overdose. To honor these lives and help prevent other overdoses and addictions, the Northport community created the Drug and Alcohol Task Force. The program today has evolved into a very exciting part of the community. TBR News Media would like to recognize the efforts of all those involved in their community’s drug prevention efforts.

In 2017, after being awarded a Drug-Free Community grant, the Northport/East Northport Drug and Alcohol Task Force created a youth coalition, called 1LIFE, and hired social worker Catherine Juliano to develop the curriculum.

“Everything we do focuses on health, wellness, kindness and connection,” Juliano said.

“We want to let people know that it’s OK to ask for help.” 

Catherine Juliano

The idea is to empower teenagers and build their leadership skills so they can identify issues impacting the community. Once the group zeros in on a concern, they strategize and implement an action plan.

“The kids are very smart,” said Juliano, a 2007 graduate of Northport High School. “If you only say: ‘Don’t do drugs,’ people will be turned off.”

She meets once a week with a core group of 25 kids and together they talk about issues that impact their peers. In 2018, the coalition sponsored a mental health awareness day. This year it became a mental health awareness week, which was comprised of a series of speakers. They sponsored an after-school retreat to teach coping skills that included using music, yoga and meditation to reduce or eliminate stress. More than 250 students attended. 

“It should be all year,” Juliano said. “We show students that teenagers struggle, and mental health is real. The idea is to promote self-care health and wellness.”

The program also informs students about the school’s resource center, which includes free counseling services with access to a drug and alcohol counselor. Reducing stigma, creating a culture that sees addiction as a disease, is part of their mission. The program helps students identify feelings and teaches how to reduce stress in themselves and recognize the qualities in others.

“We want to let people know that it’s OK to ask for help,” Juliano said. 

Town Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said the program is making a difference.

“Since 2006, the task force has made a big impact in our town,” he said. “Working together with students, parents and educators, they have successfully engaged the community to reduce the use of drugs.”

Developing healthy relationships is also part of the curriculum.

Every year for the last three years, the group has pulled together a community fundraiser called The Color Run. Students dress in light-colored clothing and traverse a trail, where they encounter event sponsors, typically community groups, who ultimately splash them with colored cornstarch in spray bottles. Last year, more than 700 people participated in The Color Run.

“It’s such a great thing,” said Juliano. “Kids find it thrilling; elementary kids are running around and want to be sprayed.”

The money they raise is used to support the coalition’s activities.

They are currently planning a workshop for fifth-graders on how to use technology in a safe way.

Juliano and her co-chair, Anthony Ferrandino, also implemented a popular Family Feud night, morphing the Too Cool for Drugs curriculum into a trivia game show with two tables of fifth-graders. A high school student dresses up like Steve Harvey to MC the event. 

1LIFE also partners with the local library and Suffolk County police to coordinate a medication take-back, which gets unused pills out of the home for safe disposal.

It also does environmental cleanups at known hidden drinking areas, documents paraphernalia that is found and shares the data with the adult task force. The aim is figuring out ways to prevent kids from going back to that spot.

Ultimately, they are teaching children to make healthy choices: Instead of drugs, let’s do something else.

The Faces of Addiction

For many Long Island families whose members are struggling with an opioid addiction, recovery can seem like an endless financially and emotionally draining cycle of rehabs and relapses. Increasingly, though, people who have miraculously overcome their own narcotic dependencies are openly sharing their stories to deliver a welcomed message of hope and a promise of freedom.

Their testimonies are among society’s most effective tools to beat this epidemic. As one reformed narcotic user put it, “If you could see inside my head you would see the light bulb. It finally hit me: I needed to listen to other recovered people and rely on their guidance.”

We would like to recognize a few of the many people in our circulation area who have overcome their addiction, their sponsors and the families and organizations that have supported everyone’s efforts as People of the Year.

“Yes, It is possible to recover, and it is so worth it.”

Chase Bernstein

Some reformed narcotic users were teenagers struggling with anxiety who started drinking alcohol or experimenting with drugs at a time when powerful opioids were abundantly dispensed, hooking many young children. Others sought relief from chronic physical pain often caused by injuries and accidents. Each circumstance is unique. So is their recovery story. Success, though, has a common denominator: It is often spiritual in nature. The virtues of faith, hope and charity play a role.

Chase Bernstein lost his father one year ago. He now works as a behavioral health technician and is one year sober. His entire recovery and his quality of life, he said, rest on his spiritual frame of mind. If he doesn’t pray in the morning, it impacts his whole day.

“Yes, IT IS POSSIBLE to recover, and it is SO WORTH IT,” he said. “I am a member of an anonymous 12-step fellowship and owe my life to the program. If it wasn’t for the steps, my sponsor, the meetings and helping other people even when I’m not getting paid, I would be dead, in the hospital, in jail, or … and I think this would be the worst of any of them: still actively using.”

Bernstein finds sobriety thrilling. 

“My life isn’t boring or bland, it is fulfilling and exciting, another misconception I had about sobriety,” he said. “I’ve started working at a job I love, I have friends, my family relationships have never been better, and I’ve even been able to experience the trials and tribulations of dating, while in recovery as a young person.”

Another reformed narcotic user, Sarah Smith, was addicted to opioids and alcohol as a young teenager. Today, eight years sober, she works full time as a treatment specialist. Helping others has given her life deeper meaning.

“I don’t know if I would have stayed sober, if I wouldn’t have had this sense of purpose,” she said.

In high school, Smith was an all-county champion softball catcher. Two years ago, she had the idea to form a softball team comprised of people recovering from narcotics use. She pulled a team together, with the help of Will Astacio, who worked at the time as a peer-to-peer mentor for veterans combating depression, anxiety and substance abuse issues. People were so enthusiastic they managed to form two different teams. With Smith as captain, the team, called THRIVE , won the 2019 county title.

“If it wasn’t for Sarah, they wouldn’t have won the championship,” Astacio said. “She’s great at bringing people together.”

Sarah also regularly advises elected officials who want to know what they can do to help address the epidemic. Her recommendations in a nutshell: more access to effective treatment, more emphasis on continuity of care, removal of insurance obstacles and offering more jobs and better pay to mental health professionals. In regard to legalizing marijuana, her advice is a firm NO.

Medical schools are also relying on reformed narcotic users to inform their curriculum.

This past summer Stony Brook University’s medical school invited several recovered narcotic users to act as teachers. One eloquent speaker, who wants to remain anonymous so we’ll call her Claire, shared her story with first-year medical students. The session was impactful, according to Dr. Lisa Strano-Paul, the assistant dean of the medical school. She expects the instruction to stick with the medical students their whole life. Claire also found the experience rewarding.

Recovery, she said, is miraculous.

She doesn’t consider herself a religious person but said that the power of prayer somehow opens you up. She came to terms with her own spirituality by appreciating the awe of nature. 

Recognizing your own self-centeredness also prompts you to change, she said. It’s a key part of the 12-step program.

Bernstein has also found this to be important, “There’s a popular line from a Biggie Smalls song that goes something like ‘check yourself before you wreck yourself.’ I think about that line all the time. I know it sounds corny that an old rap lyric helps me in my recovery, but it does! If I leave my motives unchecked, I start to make selfish and careless decisions without regard for the people in my life.”

This type of mindfulness is also used in cognitive behavioral therapy. Often called CBT, it also incorporates being honest, goal setting, establishing incremental steps toward reaching a goal, rewarding or celebrating successes and verbalizing happiness.

Patricia Tsui  practices nonpharmacological approaches to pain at Stony Brook University Hospital’s pain center and has helped Long Islanders overcome addiction after they were prescribed narcotics for chronic pain.

Artemis Shepard and Nick Giulintano are among her patients. Shepard suffered with three herniated discs and couldn’t get out of bed. Giulintano worked as a construction laborer for 30 years. He was seriously injured in a four-car collision driving at 60 mph. He was given bags of medicine, he said, including opioids that he took “like tic tacs.”

“You get used to taking medication and the induced-high,” Shepard said. “But it changes you.”

She lost friendships and developed kidney disease, she said, from the medication. Their quality of life without narcotics, they both agree, is far more satisfying.

Giulintano now has a spinal implant, which has helped with the chronic pain. In group talk sessions at the pain center, they ultimately found alternate ways to cope to overcome their addiction.

Talking with the group at the pain center was an important part of their healing.

 “I know, I’m not the only one,” Giulintano said. “And I’m always happy helping other people.”

This tribute is for them and for all the other unnamed people who shared their recovery story with our newspaper and all the people hoping for recovery. Help is a phone call away.  

The 24/7 hot line is 631-979-1700.

 

Northport residents came out in droves for the annual tree lighting at Village Park Nov. 29. The event was sponsored by the Northport Fire Department and the Northport Chamber of Commerce.

Northport district officials have found an alternative location for its bus depot. Photo from Close Northport MS Facebook page

At its Nov. 7 school board meeting, parents of Northport Middle School students asked school board members and school district officials, if the district did in fact have a bus depot stationed next to the school building, where 600 children attend classes. Many parents knew about the refueling station and were appalled, but many residents did not. 

“This is just alarming to me,” said Jamie Marcantonio, who said she had three children go through the school system. “We’re talking about toxicity.  How is it even possible that an affluent community like Northport is saying its okay to have a fuel station where our kids go to school.”

“This is just alarming to me.” 

Jamie Marcantonio

In response to ongoing air quality and health concerns among parents and former teachers at the Northport Middle School, and questions about the bus depot, the Times of Huntington-Northport has obtained copies of the most recent Petroleum Bulk Storage inspection for the Northport Middle School site. 

The Feb. 20, 2019 report indicates that the district is in violation of laws governing petroleum bulk storage.

During the announced inspection, though no evidence of spillage or release to environment were found, health officials were unable to confirm that the tanks’ leak detection, corrosion prevention and overfill protection systems were operating properly,  largely because the district has failed to maintain required self-inspection records for at least the last three years. 

One 4,000-gallon tank stores gasoline, another 4,000-gallon tank stores diesel fuel and a third fiberglass tank holds up to 15,000 gallons of #2 fuel oil, which is typically used for heating in furnaces and boilers.

The law essentially requires that metal tanks, piping, dispenser sumps and containment systems for petroleum storage utilize a technique to slow or stop corrosion called cathodic protection. The inspector noted in the report that operators were unaware of the requirement for cathodic protection and testing for the two 4,000-gallon metal tank dispenser sumps. 

To comply with Suffolk County Sanitary Code, the record-keeping and testing of cathodic protection must be rectified, health officials stated in a Nov. 13 email. 

The same report notes that one of the probes in the tank’s alarm system for leak detection was defective. Facility staff provided documentation to the inspector showing that they already had a work order in place to have the item repaired. 

The county requires prompt correction to violations and had provided a phone number to call to arrange for reinspection in its report to the district. But the county health department’s Office of Pollution Control states that no reinspection has been requested, despite the fact that the department followed up and sent a warning letter to the district in April. 

District officials did not return phone calls and board members did not respond to requests for interviews through email. 

In a Nov. 7 meeting, the school voted to test the soil on the site sometime this winter  to address concerns of ongoing complaints of odors and reports of diseases among students and former teachers. It’s unclear if the testing will include areas where tanks are located. 

In an email, Superintendent Robert Banzer stated that the district is in the process of forming a 13-member subcommittee. He advises all community members to visit the messaging center on its website for updates. Relocating the bus depot is an issue that the pending board of education subcommittee may decide to do,  according to Banzer.

Suffolk County Health Code states that violations are subject to fines not to exceed $2,000 for a single violation. The health department said that the matter has not gone beyond the warning letter stage. A proposed fine has not been calculated. 

Violations to the New York State Petroleum Bulk Storage regulations are subject to civil, administrative and/or criminal penalties up to $37,500 per violation per day. It’s unclear which entity enforces this law. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation directs all regulatory compliance issues for diesel fuel storage tanks to Suffolk County.  

The February 2019 inspection report also noted that the district could not prove that it had a current statement of insurance coverage to remediate spills if one would occur. The county said that most single station owners need to demonstrate $1.5 to $2 million in coverage. 

The county stated that it only reports the issue and does not enforce it.

In a last minute response to questions raised in this report, the district states that it has insurance coverage of $1 million for each occurrence for spills for the period July 1, 2019, to July 1, 2020. The coverage is also reportedly retroactive to July 1999 for the 15,000-gallon heating oil tank and to Feb. 18, 1994, for two 4,000-gallon diesel and gasoline tanks, the district stated.

Banzer stated that the district is unaware that it is in violation of laws governing petroleum bulk storage. 

The district provided a copy of its permit to operate a toxic or hazardous material storage site issued on July 1, 2019. The permit states that it is subject to compliance with provision of the Articles 12 & 18 of Suffolk County Code and 6 NYCRR Part 613.

 The Suffolk County Health Department said that it will conduct another inspection in December 2019. 

 

Community gathers at Northport Middle School for 'sickout' . Photo by Donna Deddy

On the sidewalk in front of the Northport Middle School on Thursday, Nov. 7, protesters held up signs as the morning traffic passed by.

“Answers Required,” their posters and T-shirts read.

As people shared their personal stories with reporters, it became evident that something is awry with many community members clearly lacking a peace of mind. 

As the district attempts to address all of the concerns, it’s still unclear who or what government agencies or which experts will give them all the answers to all the questions that they are looking for. The district, town, county and state all have different areas of expertise and have also contacted outside authorities.

“My son was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 20,” said Lawrence Belk. “Within 18 months of his diagnosis in 2009, we learned that two other students were also diagnosed with the disease.”

Belk also said that he has coached soccer and “half of the kids use nebulizers.”

The district reports that the school’s air quality tests normal.

Several parents during the sickout said that their child has been diagnosed with carboxyhemoglobin, an ailment caused by carbon monoxide exposure from auto exhaust and cigarette smoke exposure. 

Small amounts of carbon monoxide exposure can dramatically reduce the blood’s ability to transport oxygen, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Common conditions induced by carbon monoxide exposure include headaches, nausea, rapid breathing, weakness, exhaustion and confusion. 

The district uses the site as its bus depot and stores bus fuel in two underground 4,000-gallon diesel tanks, according to former board member Tammie Topel. Inspection information on the tanks are the responsibility of Suffolk County, according the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation press officer.

The county’s report on the tanks were unavailable before press time. The district did not say if the building is constantly monitored for carbon monoxide.

Several parents with children with carboxyhemoglobin said that their requests to be relocated for health reasons were denied because the districts air tests did not detect unsafe carbon monoxide levels.

 “Brown water came out of the water fountain,” said student Lucas Yule. 

The district said the discoloration was caused by an iron buildup. Yule’s mother Tracy Muno said that the school sent home a letter explaining that it was flushing out its drinking water pipes.

Yule also attended classes in the K wing, where foul odors were most recently reported. 

“It smelled like puke,” he said.

Other people complained that the building smells like mold the minute you walk in the front door. The hallways in the school are known to flood. 

A letter dated Aug. 17, 2018, from New York State to the district superintendent has identified the chemical pesticide chlordane, which was banned 30 years ago, around the buildings perimeter. The state concluded, based on information from 2000, that it did not adversely impact air quality inside the school. Though two dust samples on windowsills in classrooms detected it in “low levels,” subsequent cleanings eliminated the chemical found on the windowsill. 

As previously reported [“Northport Families Plan ‘Sickout’ in Protest,” The Times of Huntington, Nov. 7], parents have identified 18 children diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia in the last 10 years. Former teachers have surveyed former staff and found 33 with cancer. 

A state public health assessment on the Northport Middle School was requested by Assemblyman Raia.  State health officials could only confirm that a study requested in spring of 2019, is being conducted on recent Northport High School graduates. The health department also stated in an email that community members are welcome to contact the Department at 518-473-7817, or via email at [email protected] to discuss their concerns and provide detailed information.

The district said that it understands how issues surrounding environmental matters are unsettling. Since all testing has indicated that the building is safe, the district said in a letter to parents that its subcommittee will address the more important task of bringing people together. 

The district did not return phone calls and email inquiries about hallways flooding and the relocation of the districts bus depot.

 

Students and parents address the board during a standing-room only board meeting Nov. 7, after air quality issues have resurfaced at Northport Middle School. Photos by David Luces

A day that began with over 60 parents and children participating in a “sickout” protest in front of Northport Middle School ended with a public meeting later that night, where the seven-member board of education unanimously voted to begin soil testing at the school. 

A packed crowd at the boarding meeting Nov. 7. Photos by David Luces

A crowd of concerned parents and community members packed into the standing room only public meeting at the William Brosnan School. Many parents voiced dissatisfaction about how the school district has been handling recent incidents with foul odors at the middle school, saying that soil and groundwater testing are long overdue.

Many people blamed illnesses, such as cancer, headaches, nosebleeds, mold infections and other serious diseases, on the school’s long history of air quality issues. 

Board President David Badanes and Superintendent Robert Banzer both reiterated to the crowd that according to experts, the middle school is safe for operations.

“Since 2017, we have made major capital and personnel improvements to the school and have corrected issues found in a 65-year-old building, as well conducted environmental testing and engaged experts from the Department of Health, the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center of Long Island and the Icahn School of Medicine,” Banzer said. “In their professional assessments, all have indicated that the middle school is safe for occupancy. Without the assurances of these professionals we would have not occupied the school.”

“In their professional assessments, all have indicated that the middle school is safe for occupancy. Without the assurances of these professionals we would have not occupied the school.”

– Robert Banzer

The district expects that soil testing and the creation of a subcommittee will quell any remaining concerns and help bring a divided community back together. 

The subcommittee will be made up of 10 members, which will include board trustees, parents, district staff and professional experts. Together they will work on an analysis and come up with parameters of the soil testing. 

The timetable for the subcommittee’s actions has already been established. On Dec. 12, recommendations will be given to the board identifying experts that will conduct soil testing and additional analysis. December through January, soil testing begins. January-February, assessment of soil testing results. By March, the district expects a final report, which will include recommendations given to the board.  

Parent Lauren Handler called on the board to stop utilizing the services of Hauppauge-based firm J.C. Broderick, which has come under scrutiny for some of its previous reports and findings at the middle school. 

She also asked for a comprehensive review of all previous testing done at the school, additional groundwater testing, cesspool testing, and investigating the environmental impact of the VA Hospital and Covanta among other things. 

“If any part of this testing cannot be completed, or if testing is completed and the source of the result cannot be identified and remediated, than this building should be closed,” Handler said. “If this request cannot be met, I’m asking the superintendent and board members to step down.”

 A number of speakers called on the board to consider appointing an independent broker to select the consultant and experts that will be on the committee. 

Tammie Topel, a former board member who served for six years, said she previously brought up health concerns to the board.

A Northport Middle School student addresses the board Nov. 7. Photos by David Luces

“I am a former board member and when I was on the board two years ago, I requested for soil testing more than once,” she said. “Especially during one of my final board meetings, when I learned two former students had developed aplastic anemia.”

Topel, a nurse by profession, said proposals to approve soil testing at the middle school were voted down twice during her tenure. 

“Why didn’t we do this two years ago?” she asked. 

A number of parents also accused the board of not being up front with information about student illnesses at the school.

“I’m alarmed and disgusted by some of these things I just learned recently,” Michael Figeroura, an emergency medical technician for the New York City Fire Department and parent, said. “I find it disgusting when kids are complaining that they have headaches or smelling metallic things, they go to the nurse and all that gets done is that they check their temperature.”   In addition, Figeroura criticized Timothy Hoss, Northport Middle School Principal, for his handling of the situation.

“Who tells them [the students] after he comes into the room that there’s nothing there … But miraculously 30 minutes later there’s an email, a text message and a phone call — that yes there was some type of smell in the air and that they are working on the ventilation systems,” he said. “I want something to be done, we absolutely need more testing now and later.”

He also called for better trained medical staff in the schools. 

“For a nurse to check the temperature of a child after they complained about metallic smells, it is unacceptable,” Figeroura said. 

Timothy Heck, an accountant and community member, was one of a number of individuals that proposed the idea of moving the middle school students to another building in the district, arguing that the district has the available space due to declining enrollment. 

“I did a rough estimate myself and I figured from the administrative and operation costs, it costs around $2.5 to $5 million to keep one of the schools open,” he said. “What makes sense to me is that you could close one of the schools down and move the kids to this building or one of the grade schools.”

Heck cited a 2015 demographic study done by the district, where they projected that about 502 students were expected to be enrolled in the middle school in 2024 compared to 2007 when it had a peak of 908 students. 

Similarly, at a board of education budget meeting in January, the district projected that the schools have lost nearly 1,165 students since the 2011-12 school year. 

It’s unclear if board members are considering that option. 

Three board of education trustees have been appointed to the committee: Vicky Buscareno, Larry Licopoli and Tom Loughran. If you are interested in being considered for the subcommittee please send an email to: [email protected]

 

County officials and environmental activists look at designs for new water system at the Vanderbilt Museum.

Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum has installed two innovative systems for processing wastewater that significantly reduce the harmful impact of nitrogen pollution in the Northport Bay. The new technology builds on the county’s efforts to address excess nitrogen from wastewater leaching into local waters, which once the epicenter of the region’s red tide. 

New water system at the Vanderbilt museum.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and county Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) announced the installations at an Oct. 30 press event at the museum. 

“The science is clear and the solution has been established,” Bellone said. 

He noted that it is necessary to replace outdated technologies that do not reduce nitrogen pollution with new technologies that do.

“We have a $6.1 billion tourism economy that is underpinned by water,” Bellone added. “With strong support from academia, business leaders and the environmental community, our region is no longer kicking the can down the road, but is taking aggressive action to reverse the water quality crisis to better protect our waterways for future generations.”

More than 115,000 people visit the park each year and the upgrade will benefit local waterways by reducing nitrogen discharge at the site by approximately 164 pounds annually. 

To date, the county has installed advanced wastewater treatment systems at Lake Ronkonkoma and Meschutt Beach, and is currently in the process of installing 13 additional systems at other parks. 

The major contributor to water quality issues, Spencer said, is nitrogen discharges from more than 360,000 antiquated cesspools in Suffolk. 

“I am so pleased to see this technology brought to our county parks, specifically the Vanderbilt Museum, which sits directly beside a water body that we have worked so hard to restore,” Spencer added. He said upgrades to Northport’s sewage treatment plant resulted in a massive reduction in nitrogen discharge, and produced tangible benefits including the absence of red tide and the reopening of a permanently closed Centerport beach.

The investment at Vanderbilt is expected to progress, improve and protect the region’s natural resources, Spencer added. 

Officials also announced at the press event that during the month of October alone, more than 100 residents have applied for grants through the county’s septic improvement program, and that next year the county plans to install 1,200 nitrogen-reducing wastewater treatment systems, doubling the amount currently installed. 

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, applauded the progress and collaborative efforts of everyone involved. 

“This is what change looks like, one installation at a time,” she said. “Good science, good advocacy and good elected officials give us good policy, and fortunately that’s what we have seen on the water quality issue in Suffolk County.”  

The installation of the new systems is part of the county’s Reclaim Our Water initiative, which seeks to reduce nitrogen pollution of surface and groundwaters. 

Homeowners outside of a sewer district are encouraged to apply for grant funding and low interest loans to assist in paying to upgrade to an innovative system. Visit www.reclaimourwater.info to find out more.

District Attorney delivers a special presentation on opioid-related crimes to mayors and other officials from Suffolk County's villages at Lake Grove Village Hall.

Suffolk County Village Officials Association, which represents 32 villages, hosted a special presentation on the opioid crisis Sept. 26 at the Lake Grove Village Hall.

District Attorney Tim Sini (D), Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) all spoke to the group about how the crisis has fueled a regional surge in illegal firearms seizures and sex trafficking crimes.

Most criminal cases in the county, the officials said, relate to opioid epidemic.

People initially became addicted to prescription painkillers and over time, as demand increased, supply went down, and prices went up. So, people gravitated toward heroin, the DA said, which is more potent and more dangerous. Drug dealers, who realized that money can be made, began cutting their product with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, and more recently with fentanyl variations known as analogs. Fentanyl, Sini said, originates in China and is coming into the United States through the Mexican border. The drug is also being sent into the U.S. over the Canadian border and from China through the U.S. mail.

County officials said they are drilling down as hard as possible. 

Since 2016, the federal government assigned an analyst exclusively to Suffolk County Police Department to examine overdose information with maps and weekly and monthly overdose reports. The mapping system, known as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, or HIDTA, provides a real-time picture of overdoses. It also helps identify and coordinate candidates for the county’s preventing incarceration via opportunities for treatment program known as PIVOT for short. 

“Everything we do is driven by analytics,” Hart said.

The county has also been using court-sanctioned surveillance methods such as phone tapping and search warrants to crack down on drug crimes. It issued more than 350 narcotics search warrants in 2018 and has eavesdropped on more than 150 phone lines. Consequently, the county has seized greater amounts of certain drugs and illegal firearms. 

The officials said during their presentation that it’s targeting dealers who cause overdoses and charging them with manslaughter. Sini said that through surveillance, he’s learning that tougher manslaughter statutes result in dealers turning away from deadly drugs to instead
peddle nonlethal drugs. 

In 2018, the county also launched a sex trafficking unit that has identified and interviewed more than 200 sex trafficking victims. It has arrested 34 people for 235 counts of sex-trafficking related charges and learned during the interviews how drug traffickers use opioids to addict young women to keep them dependent.

Toulon said that they’re gathering information while the women are in the sheriff’s facility, which is providing other useful information on drug and sex traffickers. 

Victims, while in the sheriff’s facility, are involved in vocational and educational programs and put in touch with nongovernmental organizations that assist with counseling, drug treatment and job training.  A big problem, though, Toulon said, is housing.  

County officials emphasized that human trafficking is happening right here, right now in our communities. It can affect anyone from your neighbor to your niece and nephew. 

Officials are also calling for the use of different terminology for prostitution.  

“It’s a modern-day form of slavery and needs to be called what it is: sex trafficking,” Hart said. The force has historically arrested the women and that was the case, Hart said, but the county’s approach is shifting and officials are now looking at the women as victims.  

Officials are asking people to trust their own  instincts. 

“If you’re at a 7-Eleven and you see an older man in a car with a young woman who looks distressed, call or text us,” the officials said.

The county initiated a Text-a-Tip program. To reach officials, text TIP SUFFOLK to the number 888-777. Residents can confidentially share any information related to illicit or suspicious activity, including drug use or trafficking, Toulon said. 

Paul Tonna, who serves as executive director of the village organization, said in a telephone interview after the event that a group of mayors were previously given a private presentation on the topic in graphic detail. The situation, he said, is horrible. The women are being forced to perform six or seven sex acts a day. He is calling for people such as PTAs and religious groups to sponsor awareness campaigns with officials.

Local villages have resources, Tonna said, such as constabulary that can also become the eyes and ears of county officials. 

“We’re not here to say you need to do more,” Sini said. ”We need to think outside of the box. Because of collective efforts, we can make greater strides.”

Ann Marie Csorny is director of Suffolk County Department of Health Services’ Community Mental Hygiene Services.  The Prevention Resource Center, run by the Family Service League, she said, offers effective tools for those working to prevent drug and alcohol abuse.  Villages and towns, she said, should tap into coalitions that exist or start to build their own coalitions.

“Communities can have a great impact in terms of preventing or reducing drug use, alcohol abuse and related problems when they understand and promote coalition building,” she said. “This can be very exciting in that involved communities promote civic engagement and the building of shared understanding, shared norms, shared values, trust, and cooperation.”