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Village of Poquott

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

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

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

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

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

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

MS4 regulations

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

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

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

— George Hoffman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planting oysters and clams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Alan Duckworth

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

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

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

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

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

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The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

On June 15, village election day in Poquott, residents only had two candidates to chose from for two two-year trustee terms, incumbent Tina Cioffi and newcomer John Musiello.

Each candidate garnered 147 votes each, according to Cindy Schleider, village clerk.

Cioffi said, in a June 10 The Village Times Herald article, that she was “running again because I enjoy giving back to the community that gives me so much to be thankful for. The vibe in Poquott is really great these days, and if I can help keep that going, I’m really happy to do so.”

She was looking forward to working with Musiello on the village board. In the June 10 article, the newcomer said his goals for office include utilizing his financial background and community service experience.

“Financially, I’m looking forward to collaborating with the board on operational efficiencies, bid reviews and budget considerations,” he said. “From a community service standpoint, having done volunteer work for many years, I hope to establish some more formalized volunteer programs for Poquott based on resident interest and feedback.”

The two will be sworn in July 1 during the village’s organizational meeting.

Poquott's Village Hall. File photo

The election cycle has been a quiet one this year in the Village of Poquott.

While residents would usually have a few candidates to choose from for two two-year trustee terms, this year incumbent Tina Cioffi and newcomer John Musiello are the only names that will be on the ballot June 15.

Jeff Koppelson, who is completing his third term, decided not to run again this year. In a phone interview, Koppelson said after six years, it was time to move on, especially with him wanting to spend more time on other things in his life.

He said he moved to the village in 1972, but it wasn’t until his first trustee run in 2015 that he felt compelled to run. At one point, residents were divided about the construction of a community dock in Poquott, which was completed in 2019. Koppelson said when he ran he had hoped that he could help in some way, and they could form a team that worked well together on the village board. He said he believes that goal was accomplished, and it shows with the low number of candidates this year and less contention in the village.

“It means that we don’t have discord,” he said. “There’s no dissension. So, people are not saying, ‘I’m against what you’re trying to do and I want to somehow pursue an alternative.’ It’s pretty unifying.”

Tina Cioffi

In 2019, Cioffi won running on the Bright Side ticket with Koppelson. A former creative director in advertising for a Long Island-based advertising agency for 15 years, she has owned a marketing and communications consulting business since 2003. She has lived in Poquott since 2008, and her husband has owned their home since 1986.

Before she was voted in as trustee, she was appointed as communications commissioner in Poquott after volunteering to revamp the village’s website in 2017. She is also a member of the Poquott Community Association.

“I’m running again because I enjoy giving back to the community that gives me so much to be thankful for,” Cioffi wrote in an email. “The vibe in Poquott is really great these days, and if I can help keep that going, I’m really happy to do so.”

The trustee said her first time was a great experience, and she feels she accomplished many of her goals.

“Poquott saw its share of challenges these last few years – COVID-19 shutdown and reopening, Hurricane Isaias and an abundance of winter storms this past year – and I feel like I learned a lot in a short amount of time and am grateful to [former] Mayor [Dee] Parrish, Mayor [Chris] Schleider, the other board members, village staff and code enforcement/legal team for all they taught me regarding coordination and protocols.”

Cioffi said she is looking forward to Musiello “being a new member of the village team,” and wanted to thank Koppelson “for years of dedication and hard work.”

John Musiello

Musiello moved to Poquott in 2019. A Bronx native, after he graduated from college, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

He spent more than 20 years working with AAA in various divisions throughout the years, including corporate finance and real estate. The bulk of his AAA career was spent in operational and strategic positions in the automotive services division of AAA working his way up the ranks to senior director. He retired in 2012.

He and his husband, Mike Taflinger, volunteered with Caring Hands for more than 15 years. The nonprofit helps seniors remain independent. He has also been the treasurer for two homeowners associations. Currently, he and his husband volunteer at Welcome Friends Soup Kitchen and at Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson as Eucharistic ministers, who bring communion to parishioners in nursing and adult homes. They also take time out to clean up any trash they find on the roads and beaches in Poquott.

Musiello wrote in an email that when he moved to the village, he “immediately felt a strong sense of community, and it made me want to get more involved.”

“As soon as Tina Cioffi approached me to run for village trustee, I immediately said ‘yes,’ because I knew that working together with the other board members and mayor, we could continue to do great things in Poquott, especially keeping our community safe, clean and friendly,” Musiello said.

The candidate’s goals for office include utilizing his financial background and community service experience.

“Financially, I’m looking forward to collaborating with the board on operational efficiencies, bid reviews and budget considerations,” he said. “From a community service standpoint, having done volunteer work for many years, I hope to establish some more formalized volunteer programs for Poquott based on resident interest and feedback.”

The Village of Poquott election for village trustees will be held Tuesday, June 15, from noon to 9 p.m. at Village Hall located at 45 Birchwood Ave.

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The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

Despite contentious elections in the past, this year the Village of Poquott’s races for mayor and two trustee seats are both unchallenged.

Chris Schleider is running for mayor of Poquott. Photo from candidate

Trustee Christopher Schleider will be running for mayor Sept. 15. A teacher and lifeguard at Robert Moses State Park, he has been a trustee in the village for three years. He said he decided to run for mayor because he wants “to be a part of all of the good things that are happening in the village.”

Schleider is impressed with how Poquott has dealt with the pandemic, and during the last few months he has witnessed residents volunteering their time to help with landscaping and cleaning up debris after Tropical Storm Isaias.

“Through all of the uncertainty of these past months, I have been inspired as residents and the board displayed their ‘can do’ spirit, working together to overcome the many challenges the village faced,” he said.

As mayor, Schleider said he hopes to build not only on the sense of community but also “ensure that, together, our village will be able to handle whatever comes next.”

Current mayor Dee Parrish as well as trustee Jacqueline Taylor will be running for the two empty trustee seats. Taylor was appointed to the board after William Poupis’ departure as trustee in July 2019.

Parrish has been mayor for six years. One of her main projects during her tenure was ensuring the construction of the village dock, which was completed in June 2019. The mayor said in an email that the dock has been an asset to the Poquott community, and during the pandemic, “it gave our residents a place to go and a place to run into neighbors during a troubling period of isolation.”

She said besides resident boaters and fishers using the dock, the Setauket Harbor Task Force has used it twice for environmental studies.

Parrish, who publicly stated on the three candidates’ campaign website that she didn’t receive much training from the administration prior to hers, has also said she spent a good amount of time during her last term to train and prepare the “next generation.” In an email she said she decided to stay on as trustee to provide a smooth transition among other things.

“I decided to stay on as trustee because there are still other projects that I want to see completed for the village — projects I’ve been working on directly with residents that are still counting on,” she said. “I’m also staying on to facilitate a smooth transition for the next mayor by being available to answer any questions or assist in any way based on my six-and-a-half years’ experience on the board of trustees. I have always volunteered for the village and plan on doing so for years to come with or without a position on the board.”

Village of Poquott residents can vote in person Tuesday, Sept. 15, from noon to 9 p.m. at Village Hall located at 45 Birchwood Ave. One voter at a time will be admitted inside to vote and everybody is required to wear a mask and socially distance.

A NEW PLACE TO ROOST?

One of our readers snapped this amusing photo back in September. She writes, ‘We have so many wonderful photos of the naturally beautiful — even spectacular —Three Village area.  I met these two civic-minded, prospective Poquott neighbors as I was driving home a few weeks ago . . . and I could not resist the shot.

Send your Photo of the Week to [email protected]

 

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.”

 

Small fry fish in the water beside the Poquott dock. Coastal acidification harms not only shellfish but also can affect the development and behavior of young fish. Photo by Maria Hoffman

A local task force recently took part in a vital water testing project and chose the Village of Poquott to accomplish its task.

George Hoffman lowering the Sonde sensor to collect water depth, temperature and salinity readings before taking water samples for alkalinity. Photo by Maria Hoffman

George Hoffman, co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the organization participated in Shell Day Aug. 22 when the group tested water from the Village of Poquott’s new dock. Shell Day is a six-state water monitoring event coordinated by Northeast Coastal Acidification Network. NECAN, which serves as an interface between research and industry interests, enlisted 50 water quality groups run by citizen scientists to test for levels of ocean acidification along the harbors and bays from Maine to the Long Island Sound.

Covering more than 600 miles of the U.S. Northeast coast, the testing will give scientists a broader picture of the extent of acidification that comes into the ocean from harbors and bays.

“[Acidification] is having impacts on shellfish and baby fish,” Hoffman said. “The problem with a higher acid content of the water is that it starts to impact the shell of the baby shellfish as they are emerging. It weakens the shells and makes them more susceptible to die-offs, and they don’t survive. It’s just impacts the whole food chain.”

Hoffman said the task force tests water conditions in the Sound’s bays and harbors twice a year and was thrilled to participate in Shell Day. The Village of Poquott was the ideal spot for the testing, he said, due to its new dock in the middle of Port Jefferson Harbor, and the task force appreciated village officials allowing them to use the location.

Testing was done during three phases of the tide — low, mid and high — which took place at 11:18 a.m., 2:18 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Hoffman said two water samples were taken from every phase of the tide and then put on ice. The samples were then sent by ferry to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where they will be analyzed at the University of Connecticut’s laboratory for alkalinity and salinity.

Poquott Mayor Dee Parrish said in an email the village was pleased that the dock, which was officially opened in June, was chosen. While the goal was to provide a place for residents to use for fishing, photography, summer lounging and social interactions, the testing on the dock was a first.

Mark Smith and George Hoffman with equipment used for water testing. Photo by Maria Hoffman

“Being able to assist the Setauket Harbor Task Force in obtaining the water samples that will provide actionable information for watershed management, strategic habitat protection and restoration is a really fabulous end of season way to celebrate our first year with this wonderful new community asset,” Parrish said.

Laurie Vetere, president of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said in a statement that the group is eager to participate in every study that can determine the health of Port Jefferson and Setauket harbors

“We hope that our efforts on Shell Day 2019 will drive the local and regional governments to step up their efforts to improve the ability of our local waters to provide optimal habitats for our native and dwindling marine life,” Vetere said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the state’s Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, applauded the group’s efforts in a statement. Englebright is responsible for drafting legislation to establish Stony Brook University’s Ocean Acidification Task Force.

“The process of ocean acidification is invisible, and we need to have regional scientific datasets to bring the magnitude of this enormous threat to marine life into plain site and help us develop strategies to address its impacts,” Englebright said. “Time and again, we see that ordinary citizens are ready and willing to help with critical scientific data collection. Shell Day 2019 is a powerful and inspiring example of how we can bring citizen scientists together with leading government agencies to make a real difference.”

Just in time for the first day of summer, the Village of Poquott debuted its new community dock at California Park June 21.

Before cutting the ribbon, Mayor Dee Parrish thanked the dozens of residents who attended the event for their support of the dock on behalf of herself and the village board of trustees.

John Tsunis, president of Gold Coast Bank, was also on hand to help cut the ribbon. Tsunis is a resident of the village, and the dock was financed through the bank.

It was the first time he saw the dock, he said, and he described it as beautiful and well-designed.

“It adds to the quality of life for the residents of Poquott,” he said after the ribbon cutting. “I think it’s a beautiful addition. We live on the water so it’s very appropriate to have a dock and a pier for people to use, and I’m very proud of it.”

The community dock, located at the end of Washington Street, had been a topic of debate in the village for nearly a decade as many were against it, fearing an increase in taxes and wanting the final decision to be made with a public referendum. A few years ago, the village board of trustees began the process of building the dock by sending out questionnaires to residents to get their feedback.

The night of the ribbon cutting the residents on hand celebrated with champagne, ice cream and taking walks on the new dock, which will also have a floating dock to help boaters load and unload their crafts.

“It’s a perfect addition to a beach community,” Parrish said after the ceremony. “I am touched by all the residents that came together to make this project a reality. The community dock will be used and enjoyed for many, many years — that makes me feel that all the hours of work have paid off.”

Poquott's Village Hall. File photo

Voters in the Village of Poquott took a walk on the Bright Side June 18.

Jeff Koppelson

Tuesday night Poquott residents had the opportunity to choose among four candidates for two trustee seats on the village board. Incumbent Jeff Koppelson, who was aiming for a third term, and newcomer Tina Cioffi ran together on the Bright Side ticket and won, according to the village’s deputy clerk Cindy Schleider. Cioffi garnered the most votes at 208, while Koppelson had 207.

The duo ran against incumbent John Richardson, who was running for his second term as trustee, and Felicia Chillak, who gained 184 and 187 votes, respectively. Both were on the We the People ticket.

Koppelson complemented his running mate’s campaigning in an email.

“Tina did a great job campaigning and showed why her energy and personality will serve the village well,” he said. “Considering the size of Poquott, our margin of victory was pretty decisive so all of us feel that our message was heard and appreciated.”

With the village putting years of debate over the recently constructed community dock behind them, the incumbent recognized the amount of votes Richardson and Chillak received. The We the People candidates were proponents of the dock being put to a referendum and felt residents needed more of a voice in village regulations.

Tina Cioffi

“John Richardson and Felicia did garner a lot of votes, so we are well aware that the village continues to be divided,” Koppelson said. “We’ve tried to be inclusive, but we hope that having Tina on the board will help build consensus moving forward. Bottom line, though, is that once again the election showed that a majority of the residents in Poquott approve of the work we’ve done and direction we’ve taken the village.”

On the Facebook page Poquott Life Matters, which Chillak administrates, she posted a message after the results were in.

“Thank you to all those who came out and supported John and I,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, we were 21 votes shy. Just know we will continue for what we believe.”

Paul Edelson ran unopposed for village justice and received 344 votes.

Poquott's Village Hall. File photo

On June 18, Poquott residents will head to the polls to choose between four candidates vying for two trustee spots. This year’s incumbents Jeff Koppelson and John Richardson will go up against newcomers Felicia Chillak and Tina Cioffi. Paul Edelson is running unopposed for a four-year term as village justice.

All four board members recently answered questions via email and phone.

Incumbents

Jeff Koppelson

Koppelson, 71, has served two two-year terms as trustee and since 2017 has been deputy mayor. A Poquott resident for 47 years, he is a retired director of a psychiatric treatment program. He and Cioffi are running on the Bright Side ticket.

“I decided to run because there are a number of projects that I’ve been working on that are still in progress, such as developing a plan to stabilize Walnut Beach and continuing to rewrite our outdated village codes,” Koppelson said.

The trustee said the language for many of the codes had to be updated to bring them into compliance and to make them consistent with each other. Codes often overlap, he said, and “a number of times one code said one thing and another code contradicted it.”

Municipalities are now required to follow the International Building Code, which covers multiple construction and zoning issues. Koppelson said while a village can make a code stricter, it cannot make a code more lenient.

“So, it is important that we have our codes not only comply but be distilled down to what we as a small village need to know,” he said, adding the village posts the codes on its website for easy accessibility for residents.

After a code is rewritten, it is circulated among the board members for comments, and then a public hearing is held to give residents the opportunity to point out errors or inconsistencies before it is given to the village attorney.

Richardson, 44, is completing his first term as trustee and last year ran for mayor against Dee Parrish. The New York City firefighter has lived in the village for nearly 18 years, and he is running in the We the People Party with Chillak.

“I would like to keep some form of checks and balances on the board to prevent unfair laws and issues from being rubber stamped and pushed through and allow village residents more say on how their village is governed,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he opposes the board’s plan to classifying a zoning violation as a misdemeanor and to request a search warrant to enter someone’s home for inspection as the village deems necessary. He added he feels the moves would be an overreach of the government.

“I would like to curb the intrusive hostile government laws trying to be passed,” Richardson said.

Koppelson said Richardson’s objection is an example of codes needing to be updated, and a process was recently needed for emergency situations as one didn’t exist. For example, if it is believed there is a dangerous situation in a house and the owners don’t agree to an inspection, a search warrant is needed to evaluate the situation. It was a suggestion that came from village attorney Joseph Prokop, Koppelson said, who told the trustee that similar situations have occurred in other villages that he does legal work for.

Challengers

Chillak, 61, is vying for trustee for the second time after an unsuccessful run in 2018 for a seat. A realtor with HR Realty since 1990, she has lived in Poquott for 29 years and has been a member of the Poquott Civic Association board since 2014.

Felicia Chillak

“I am running again because I feel there should be a balance on the board,” she said. “I will continue to review and analyze all changes made in our village. As always, I will seek residents’ input because this village belongs to them. I will be the voice of the voiceless.”

She feels that many residents are hesitant to approach the board but feel comfortable talking to her, and she feels she can be a conduit between the village government and residents.

“The Village of Poquott was formed because residents did not want outside influence controlling their everyday lives,” she said. “This current board seems to be bed rocked in government control. I will strive for a balance, so we can once again enjoy all the pleasures of residing in our little corner of heaven.”

Cioffi, 50, is running for trustee for the first time. A former creative director in a Long Island-based advertising agency for 15 years, she has owned a marketing and communications consulting business since 2003. She has lived in Poquott since 2008, and her husband has owned their home since 1986.

Cioffi said maintaining the village’s website and attending board meetings inspired her to get involved.

“I saw a lot of good happening in our village as well a lot of controversy,” she said. “I saw both sides of most of the arguments and felt that my background in communications might lend a hand in resolving some of the issues, so I volunteered to redesign the website as it was an area that all the candidates agreed needed to be addressed.”

Community dock

Poquott’s dock will officially open June 13, but for years it was a hot button topic in the village. The dock, located in California Park at the end of Washington Street, had been discussed by residents for nearly a decade, and while several protested the idea, the village board began the process of building one a few years ago.

Tina Cioffi

Richardson and Chillak feel the issue is behind the village now, but in the past, both called for a referendum for residents to vote on it as both candidates didn’t feel prior questionnaires that were mailed to residents about the dock were adequate.

“The current board spoke, ignored the request of the people and for now, we have to move on,” Chillak said. “I will work toward that unity.”

All the candidates feel there may be unforeseeable issues with the dock, and it will take a season of use to formalize guidelines.

“We will need a season of using it to learn how to manage hours of usage, loitering and noise issues, and deployment of our code enforcement officers,” Koppelson said. “We also expect that there will be new, evolving issues that inevitably arise.”

Richardson said he believes all aspects “of the dock should have been discussed and decided before the dock was built.”

Other issues

All four trustees agreed that there are issues outside of the dock to resolve in the village.

Koppelson said the board has to address drainage issues in the village, and he would also like to work toward an affordable, short-term solution to stabilizing what is left of Walnut Beach. He said the village also needs to develop a way to speed up the seasonal road repair process, which starts after the winter and involves the advertising of bids and then waiting for the next board meeting to open the bids and award the contract. This leads to work not being completed until well into spring.

Cioffi agreed that the village faces the degrading of Walnut Beach and infrastructure changes including repaving and drainage and lighting systems needing to be modified “but few of the residents want to incur the tax increase that would be required to fully accommodate those requests.”

The candidate said she would like to work on feasibility studies that compare Poquott to other incorporated villages in order to find out where the village falls short and form committees with interested residents to work together with the board to obtain grants.

“I think it’s going to be a multiphase endeavor similar to how the current board addresses issues now but on a larger scale and with more people involved to expedite the process,” she said, adding the new village website includes a community section to foster participation for resident-based clubs and organizations.

Richardson and Chillak also agreed that there are issues regarding roads, lighting and drainage that need to be addressed with long-term plans. 

“There are residents that have spoken of their willingness to help,” Chillak said. “I will engage them to the best of my ability.”

Chillak said the auditor’s last report was also troubling to her, and she feels finances are another major issue. She said even though the budget looks as if the village is on target, she feels the auditor’s comments at a recent village meeting point to the fund balance being dangerously close to low.

Unity

Many feel the community dock has caused divisiveness in the village over the years, but the candidates feel that can end.

Cioffi said she ran a charity drive in December where she felt all the residents contributed generously, and if she’s elected, she plans on more community-based initiatives for children and teenagers to bring residents together.

“The residents of Poquott share a lot of common ground and we need to build on it, not break it down,” she said. “Collaboration is key. If there is an issue, a black or white solution is not going to satisfy every resident. If I’m elected, I’m going to look for the solutions that strike compromises and land somewhere in between.”

Richardson said nothing would make him happier than to see residents come together.

“The polarization of neighbors has gone on too long,” he said. “It’s a shame, because it takes away from what makes Poquott such a great place. How do you facilitate that? I think it could start with neighbors sharing more hellos and handshakes, and less rumors, lies and insults.”

The Village of Poquott will hold its annual election Tuesday, June 18, at Village Hall located at 45 Birchwood Ave. Polling will be open from 12 to 9 p.m. for voting.