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Village of Northport

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The Great Cow Harbor 10k Run took place Sept. 17. The event was sold out with 5,000 runners registered.

According to the Great Cow Harbor 10K Run Facebook page, more than 60 participants were elite athletes from all over the country running to be the USA Track & Field National Champion.

According to USATF, Abbabiya Simbassa was the winner in the men’s division, crossing the finish line in 28 minutes and 12 seconds, a new course record.

Stephanie Bruce came in first in the women’s division. She completed the course in 31 minutes, 52 seconds.

Graphic above shows Bluff Point Road watershed in blue and proposed rain gardens in green. Graphic from Nelson Pope Voorhis

On March 16, environmental advocates met with public officials at the Northport Yacht Club to announce the addition of four rain gardens along Northport Harbor.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said her organization has partnered with the Village of Northport and the yacht club to address water pollution. According to her, rain gardens are a cost-effective and simple way to protect the harbor.

“In short, a rain garden is a nature-based solution to man-made pollution,” she said. “Stormwater runoff carries with it pesticides and fertilizers and other pollution and contaminants into our surface waters across Long Island. This rain garden is very important because it will be removing thousands of gallons of rain before it goes into the harbor.”

Nelson Pope Voorhis, a Melville-based engineering firm, is making this vision a reality. According to Rusty Schmidt, landscape ecologist at Nelson Pope, the proposed rain gardens will act as a filtration system, flushing out debris and other sources of pollution, to discharge stormwater safely into the harbor.

“A rain garden is a shallow bowl that we put into the landscape and that we direct water to on purpose,” Schmidt said. “In this case, the water is going to be coming from Bluff Point Road, and as the water comes down the street it will go into these gardens first. That water will soak into the ground in one day or less — in this case it will probably soak in in a few hours because the soils are sandy — and that water will be cleansed and cleaned and get to a drinkable quality.” He added, “It’s still going out to Northport Harbor, but through the soil and without all the garbage.”

We once had a thriving, billion-dollar shellfish industry here on the Island, and this is an important measure to bring back those types of species.

— Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport)

According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Northport Harbor and Northport Bay are both designated as priority waterbodies. Schmidt said that the proposed rain gardens would capture roughly 15,000 gallons of rainwater during a storm event, removing several harmful contaminants from the runoff before it reaches the harbor.

“Nitrogen is the number one pollutant to our bay, and we are eliminating a large volume of nitrogen from these rain gardens,” Schmidt said. “Nitrogen is the main component of growing the algal blooms, the red tides and the brown tides that are causing low oxygen and other problems in the harbor.”

The project is made possible by grants from the Long Island Sound Study and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Long Island Sound Futures Fund. Policymakers suggest this project will help to revitalize Northport’s decimated aquatic ecosystems.

“We once had a thriving, billion-dollar shellfish industry here on the Island, and this is an important measure to bring back those types of species,” said state Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport). “I ran on a platform of cleaning up the Long Island Sound, the bays and the estuaries. The quality of them is a really important issue of mine, being from Northport.”

Ian Milligan, deputy village mayor and commissioner of Docks & Waterways, Police and Personnel, confirmed that the rain gardens near the yacht club will be the first of several planned to be installed throughout the village.

Local officials and environmentalists point to the site of a planned rain garden near Northport Yacht Club. Photo by Raymond Janis

“We have a huge runoff water problem here in Northport and it all ends up in the harbor,” Milligan said. “This is the first rain garden that we’re doing in Northport and I’m also happy to say that the village, through other grants and other programs, has three more that are going to be coming out this year.”

According to Esposito, these projects will lead to a cleaner, safer Northport Harbor.

“The bottom line is that this rain garden really will be a simple solution to rainwater pollution,” she said. “We will be using native plantings and taking an area right now that floods and reimagining that area as a beautiful garden that will be absorbing the rain and filtering those pollutants, thereby protecting the harbor.”

Esposito added that construction of the proposed rain gardens near Northport Yacht Club will begin this spring.

Northport Village Hall. File photo

A former village clerk is ready to take over the mayor’s seat.

Donna Koch

Village of Northport residents voted for Donna Koch for mayor on March 15. She beat out current trustee Dave Weber Jr. for the spot, with an unofficial result of 1,015-799.

Up until 2020, Koch worked as a full-time clerk for the village for 20 years. Two years before she took on the position, she was deputy village clerk.

In a March 10 The Times of Huntington & Northport article, Koch said she decided to run after attending village board meetings. She said she felt the board rushed through meetings and found department heads had nothing to report, including the treasurer. She also felt the board was disrespectful to residents. 

“It was then I knew I wanted to run for mayor and bring this village board back to a position of respect, transparency, with open, honest, informative meetings,” Koch said.

Trustees

In addition to choosing between mayoral candidates Koch and Weber, voters selected three trustees, two for a four-year term and another for a two-year period. Mary Biunno ran unopposed for village justice.

At the end of the night, Meghan Dolan and Joseph Sabia won four-year terms with 1,034 and 982 unofficial votes respectively, and Ernest Pucillo gained the two-year seat with 880 votes.

In the March 10 article, Dolan, a litigator in both the public and private sectors, said that running for village trustee wasn’t something she ever thought she would do. The co-founder of Not In Our Town Northport, which works with the community, school administration and the police department to stand up against hate and bigotry, said her experience working in the village the last few years inspired her to run.

“In attending and speaking at the village meetings, it became clear to me that new voices — voices of women, parents and young people — are essential to continuing to make Northport Village the best it can be,” she said.

Joseph Sabia, who had an unsuccessful run for trustee three times and mayor once in the past, is the owner of Sabia’s Car Care.

He said not only as a business owner, but as someone who has been a member of the Northport Police Department and on the Northport-East Northport school board from 2011-14, he has seen a lot in the village. He also has been attending the village board meetings for 10 years.

“I’ve been living in the village for over 45 years,” he said. “I have a business here, and I live here, and I raised my family here, and after going to meetings, I realized how this place is run,” he said. “It’s very poor.”

Among the issues on the minds of
Koch, Dolan and Sabia are finances and stormwater runoff.

Pucillo could not be reached for comment. Final official vote counts were not available at press time.

Northport Village Hall. File photo

In the Village of Northport, residents will vote for a new mayor on Tuesday, March 15.

In addition to choosing between mayoral candidates Dave Weber Jr. and Donna Koch, voters will select three trustees, two for a four-year term and another for a two-year period. Mary Biunno is also running unopposed for village justice.

Weber and Koch recently answered questions via email about the mayoral race.

Donna Koch

Koch is no stranger to Village Hall. Until October of 2020, she worked as a full-time clerk until she had a parting of ways with the mayor, she said.

The candidate had been with Village Hall for more than 25 years. After starting her career as a crossing guard in the village in 1993, she spent a few years working part time in Village Hall and in 1998 became full-time deputy village clerk. In 2000, she took on the job of village clerk. After taking some time off, she realized she “missed Northport village government and started to attend village board meetings regularly.”

“With a different perspective, I could see what the residents saw,” she said. “A board whose sole purpose was to hurry through the meeting, with department heads having nothing to report, a treasurer who had nothing to report. And, with a total disrespect for the residents who do attend the meetings. It was then I knew I wanted to run for mayor and bring this village board back to a position of respect, transparency, with open, honest, informative meetings. This is an unprecedented time for the village. With four new spots up for election, experience will be key. I have that experience.”

She said taxes are a constant issue in
the village.

“We need to get our spending in check,” Koch said. “I will work with a board who takes a hard look at spending and finds ways to cut back. Do more with less. I will strive to achieve a zero tax increase.”

She also is concerned about keeping the “harbor clean, by mitigating stormwater runoff.”

She said the village needs “to dust off” several studies that were done “to see how we can implement them today.”

“I love the idea of rain gardens and more aesthetically pleasing remedies,” Koch said. “We as a board will look into every option that’s available.”

She said she would also aim to keep cannabis out of the village, control speeding on the roads, and put in new sidewalks, trees and curbs in the downtown area. She also has street congestion, parking and living in the post-COVID world on her mind.

Dave Weber Jr.

Dave Weber Jr.

Current trustee Weber said his experiences as a volunteer with the fire department and a downtown business owner, both for 26 years, have given him a unique perspective of the village regarding what it needs for long-term growth and sustainability.

“Joining the board of trustees in 2020, I have given our residents that voice that has been missing over the past administrations,” he said.

Among his accomplishments while trustee, he listed, “Transparency, calling out and getting professional guidance and new eyes into our finances when wrongdoing was discovered; fiscal responsibility, building relationships with federal and state as well as local elected officials to obtain grant monies to improve recreational facilities for our youth; environmental initiatives, continuing stormwater mitigation along Main Street with state funding for continued improvement of our water quality; aquaculture programs to clean and strengthen the condition of our harbor for future generations.”

Weber said the village’s lingering issues would be compounded by new hurdles as it transitions into a post-pandemic era. He listed commerce and stormwater mitigation as priorities once the new board takes office. He also said that building relationships between public/private partnerships and community organizations, in turn, can create a stronger village.

Weber said one example of partnerships has been how as trustee he has already built a relationship with the local community organization Not in Our Town and the Town of Huntington Anti Bias Task Force to address hate and antisemitism after incidents in the village.

He also said he would work to connect local businesses with the community and has a plan for stormwater mitigation.

“Building relationships with business owners and bridging residents and customers to those businesses to help fill storefronts and keep our downtown thriving is an initiative that I have already begun and will continue to do,” he said. “Stormwater mitigation or the ‘flooding on Main Street’ has and probably will always be an issue due to our Main Street being in a valley. Using federal money for dry wells and filtration as well as installing rain gardens along these key areas will help to alleviate the increase of nitrogen in our harbor. Partnering with key environmental organizations within the village to educate and get our community involved in this extremely important issue is currently happening, and will continue
if elected.”

Two-year trustee

Meghan Dolan Saporita

Meghan Dolan Saporita

Trustee candidate Meghan Dolan Saporita, a litigator in both the public and private sectors, said in an email that running for village trustee wasn’t something she ever thought she would do. Throughout her career, she has been a trial attorney and an assistant district attorney for Nassau County. She is the mother of school-aged children and is a current member of the Ocean Avenue PTA and a youth soccer coach in the village. Dolan Saporita is also one of the co-founders of Not In Our Town Northport which works with the community, school administration and police department to stand up against hate and bigotry. NIOT also heads up donation drives for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays as well as school supplies.

My decision to enter the race was really organic, growing out of my work the past few years in this village, the relationships I have formed here, and the real opportunity for new and needed leadership in this particular election,” Dolan said. “In attending and speaking at the village meetings, it became clear to me that new voices — voices of women, parents and young people — are essential to continuing to make Northport Village the best it can be. I decided to enter the race because I am dedicated to Northport and because I am qualified, experienced, and professional, all qualities that Northport Village deserves in its leaders.

Dolan said she feels the biggest problem facing Northport Village is environmental.

“We have suffered from flooding in the downtown, which produces significant pollutants which then run into our Harbor,” she said. “We need to make tackling these environmental concerns a priority: addressing the infrastructure (with Federal money) to prevent flooding every time it rains, by committing to native plantings, by following through on commitments to a native tree planting program, in partnership with our incredible local nonprofit Northport Native Garden Initiative, by continuing work on our aquaculture programs, and by starting new initiatives in the village geared towards sustainability.”

Jim Izzo

James Izzo

James Izzo, who owns Cow Harbor Realty, said this is the first time he is running for village trustee. He said when he was president of the Northport Chamber of Commerce, he was slightly frustrated with what he felt was a lack of response from the village during the COVID-19 response by the existing administration.

“We just got to a point where our members needed a lifeline,” he said. “The village did not respond, and as the chamber, we offered multiple things that were safe in nature that could have easily been done and benefited our members and our small businesses. Initially they said, “no,” and then after a while, they just stopped responding completely. So, that level of frustration was my initial looking at what’s wrong and then evolved.”

He said when he moved from Asharoken to the village a year and a half ago, he started “seeing shortcomings that went well beyond how they treated the chamber and its members, but how they treated the residents. So, it really evolved from a level of frustration to a level of, “Oh my goodness, I have to do something.”

Izzo said there may be a myriad of issues in the village but have been identified and are easy to resolve. He said he feels the residents should be more involved in decision-making too, and he doesn’t feel there needs to be so many meetings behind closed doors. He said the village needs accessibility, caring and transparency.

“I’ve been self-employed all my life; and I’ve run my own companies; and I’ve been involved with business improvement districts; I’ve been on a number of boards, where you have a mission statement,” he said. “It seems to me, although in an elected capacity, [village] boards don’t have a mission statement per se, but they still have a mission.”

He added, “a good manager doesn’t solve the problems, a good manager anticipates future problems.”

“It’s more like you anticipate what could come up and you try to anticipate it and resolving before it escalates. So, I think now, what we’re seeing is maybe the tip of the iceberg, and maybe there’s other underlying problems that haven’t surfaced yet, and that’s my real concern.”

Joseph Sabia

Joseph Sabia

Joseph Sabia, the owner of Sabia Car Care, has unsuccessfully run for trustee three times and mayor once in the past.

He said as not only is he a business owner, but as someone who has been a member of the Northport Police Department and on the Northport-East Northport school board from 2011 to 2014, he has seen a lot in the village. He also has been attending the village board meetings for 10 years.

“I’ve been living in the village of over 45 years,” he said. “I have a business here, and I live here, and I raised my family here, and after going to meetings, I realized how this place is run,” he said. “It’s very poor.”

Sabia said as someone who is financially conservative, he feels the village having a more than $8 million fund balance while having a nearly $17 million budget is “ridiculous.”

“Our village, they over budget, underspend and they bank a lot of money,” he said.

He said a $4 million reserve would be enough for a village the size of Northport, and he also feels that the village needs to stop raising taxes needlessly, especially with rising inflation.

“You look at every and each individual department, you see how much money has been spent the year before. The real numbers. And that’s when you go back to which is called the zero-based budget. So, if they spent 4 million less you go back to the 4 million less and then raised taxes on the 4 million less than what Curtis’s and if you have the reserve that you have, which is eight and a half million, you don’t raise taxes at all.”

Sabia said he would do his best not to raise taxes, but he understands there are situations where it may be necessary.

He said other issues on his mind are the deteriorating conditions of roads, sidewalks and curbs in the village. Sabia added he has seen overgrown trees where the roots are breaking up the sidewalks. He also said the village has to look at the stormwater runoff issue on Main Street, and he believes rain gardens and catch basins can help.

One-year trustee

Michael Bento

Michael Bento

A financial professional and as someone just starting a family, Michael Bento said he can bring a unique perspective to the village board.

He said one of the key issues is the fiscal challenges that will be brought on by the school tax hike due to the LIPA settlement, and he plans to keep village taxes low to offset the effects. He said his goal is to fight for federal infrastructure funds that New York State will allocate and search for intergovernmental grants.

“To me the biggest problem facing our village is the impact of the LIPA settlement,” he said. “The school tax hike after the glidepath has been exhausted will make Northport unaffordable for many families if we are not agile and proactive with offsetting the pain on other tax lines, such as village taxes or instance,” he said. “I am looking to leverage my experience as a financial professional to find as many offsets as I can to help keep village taxes low without sacrificing the quality of our services.”

Bento also listed other issues in the village such as repairing roads, sidewalks and storm drains. The flooding on Main Street is also on his mind.

“The health of the harbor is also of great concern,” he said. “Infrastructure grants would also go a long way toward mitigating runoff, but also partnerships with NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and non-profits dealing with marine and environmental issues are also essential to keeping our waters clean for the next generation.”

While Bento has been a full-time resident since he his wife, Victoria, settled in the village in 2017, he said he would visit his grandparents in the summer when they had a house in Northport.

“We chose Northport because drawing from my own childhood experiences we could not envision raising our future kids anywhere else,” he said.

Ernest Pucillo is also running for trustee but could not be reached.

March 15

Residents will be able to vote for the Village of Northport mayor and trustees on March 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Northport Village Hall, 224 Main St.

Barry Udelson from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County shows those in attendance oysters. Photo by Kimberly Brown

After a great amount of hard work and dedication, Village of Northport trustee Dave Weber Jr. was happy to announce Wednesday, July 28, that the latest stage of the aquaculture program between Northport Village, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County and Town of Huntington Maritime Services is officially operating.

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci speaks at the July 28 press conference. Photo by Kimberly Brown

The entities have established Floating Upweller System, also known as FLUPSY, floats which will become essential to preserving the oyster population as well as cleaning waterways in Northport Harbor.

“About 30 community members set this plan in motion to raise funds and support this FLUPSY program,” Weber said, “What’s better than to start an aquaculture program right here in our own backyard to support, safeguard and help maintain a healthy marine environment?”

There are numerous benefits to having the FLUPSY dock in Northport Harbor because it allows a large number of oysters to grow while simultaneously protecting them from natural predators.

“The idea behind this is that we’re constantly providing a heavy flow of water passing over the shellfish,” said Barry Udelson from CCE of Suffolk County. “If you’re pumping water through them, they’re constantly getting a much healthier diet. Think about giving them heavy protein shakes, they’ll grow much faster than if they were naturally sitting on the bay bottom.”

The dock holds 100,000 baby oysters that are 4 to 10 millimeters in size. In a few months, the oysters will grow to approximately 40 mm.

Once the oysters are mature enough to survive out in open waters, Huntington Maritime Services and CCE of Suffolk County will place them in the bay. The oysters will continue to grow until they are big enough to be harvested by baymen.

“This is the first year, but as we continue to grow we may be able to expand these floats to more than 100,000 oysters,” Udelson said. “As more communities like yours start to appreciate this, we can find ways to continue to expand to other parts of Long Island and improve everyone’s water quality.”

The oysters will be able to filter out the nitrogen, caused by rain runoff, fertilizers and cesspools and introduce oxygen into the water. The process will serve as an efficient way to clean out the waterways and create safer habitats for other species.

The FLUPSY program will also have an educational component to it and help teach students about shellfish aquaculture. Currently, the program has taken on two Northport High School interns who will work with CCE of Suffolk County..

“This is a great day because this is really how government should work together,” said Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R). “We want to continue these great efforts and work along with the village and Cornell Cooperative Extension to help restore our water quality.”

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Northport residents were recently sent a survey from the village asking them to voice their concerns about police issues in the village. Photo by Lina Weingarten

By Chris Cumella

The Village of Northport Board of Trustees held a virtual conference via Zoom Feb. 2 to extend outreach to the community and welcome any questions, comments or concerns that the residents had about the village police force.

The meeting was part of an ongoing effort to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order for police reform and reinvention.

Speaking with 37 participants, the board of trustees discussed reformation plans for the Northport Village Police Department moving forward. Representatives said that they have already taken the village’s residents and their thoughts into consideration through a series of surveys directed towards different demographics of those residing in Northport.

“We had done random survey sampling of residents within the Northport zip code,” said Mayor Damon McMullen, referring to one of the five surveys that the Northport local government had sent out to the general public as a means to receive feedback. “We put that survey online so additional residents could partake, and we could get more comment and opinion in that venue.”

According to Joe Schramm, a marketing and communications executive and member of the Northport Village Police Review Committee, the committee has been seeking input from the community to understand how the public perceives the work of the village’s police force. There were a variety of methods for gathering public feedback that the committee had been using.

An anonymous survey was mailed out two weeks ago to residents in the 11768 area code, to which 78 percent responded. Schramm said the results were primarily positive. Another anonymous survey targeted seniors of Northport High School. However, the committee had only seen a 5 percent response rate, which Schramm detailed as “not quite reliable.”

Regardless of their location, surveyors were also able to answer yet another anonymous survey on the Village of Northport official website, which had shown an attractive response rate of over 200 participants. All surveys had closed at 5 p.m. Jan. 31.

“We are listening to 100 percent of your commentary,” Schramm said to the participants. “We are taking every single comment into consideration. We’ll have the chance to review things. We’re going to take all the comments people had made about the previous four tactics as well.”

While the police committee received positive feedback, it did not come without criticism. A common concern was addressed by a couple of participants in the call regarding an alleged altercation between a former Northport policeman and a resident, which caused the ex-officer to draw his weapon on the other individual.

First brought to the board’s attention by a Zoom participant and village resident known as Mary, the quarrel occurred Sept. 28 when “a Trump supporters caravan” with concealed license plates had rolled down Woodbine Avenue exhibiting flags and signs in support of the former president.

Stuart Besen, village attorney, said that the board could not comment. However, an ongoing investigation is being made in  cooperation with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

Another resident, Patricia Naples, addressed her concerns about the incident by calling the situation worrying. “Who gives anybody the right to draw a gun because you legally have the right to own one?” she said. “Carry a gun, sure, but you cannot take it out in this village.”

McMullen closed the meeting by reinforcing the idea that it was through public outreach that any changes would transpire in the Village of Northport.

“We’ve been doing a very good job compared to a lot of other municipalities,” the mayor said. “Village residents are not the only ones that are impacted by the Northport Village police. We wanted to get a reaction from the rest of the community.”

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.