Between rising sea levels, more frequent and intense storms and a changing climate, the Village of Port Jefferson is also addressing longstanding flooding concerns.
Public officials, architects and residents gathered at Village Hall on Wednesday, April 5, sharing updated findings of the ongoing village Climate Resilience Plan in a community workshop. With water targeting the village from all angles, data is being used to develop new intervention strategies.
“The Village of Port Jefferson, Drowned Meadow if you will [the village’s original name], has had unending issues with flooding as a result of topography, tides, runoff, rains, storms, a shallow water table and many other issues,” said Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden. “I believe tonight’s workshop will be extremely helpful in moving Port Jefferson toward the ability to implement a responsible and solid resiliency plan.”
Trustee Rebecca Kassay, the village’s sustainability commissioner, updated the public on the status of the Project Advisory Committee. Composed of residents, contractors, Conservation Advisory Council members and Amani Hosein, legislative aide to Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), the PAC is pursuing the Climate Resilience Plan for the village with a focus on flooding.
The study is made possible by an $82,500 grant from the New York State Department of State to fund the creation of the Port Jeff plan. Michael Schwarting is a partner of the local Campani and Schwarting Architects, one of the firms hired to carry out various tasks associated with the grant. During the meeting, he updated the public on the study’s findings.
Flooding: an Achilles’ heel
Schwarting analyzed Port Jeff’s long history of flooding using historical aerial photographs and maps. He identified various hidden water bodies, such as Crystal Lake near the fire station and other creeks and streams, flowing beneath the existing built environment in Lower Port.
“The maps tell us a good deal about the conditions, and what we know is that it’s all still there,” he said. “That water is underground, and it doesn’t go away.”
Schwarting said three factors work to exacerbate flooding conditions: rising tides, waters below the surface and low-lying topography. “Those three things interact with one another to cause the problems that we’ve been having in the past, are still having and will have in a worse way, according to predictions,” the architect said.
The village is simultaneously afflicted by water from above, with projections for more frequent and intense precipitation events due to climate change. “The prediction is that the storms are going to increase,” Schwarting said, adding that as global sea levels rise, Port Jeff Harbor is projected to begin spilling over into much of the downtown business district.
Despite the challenges ahead, Schwarting maintained that there are some natural remedies to help counteract these threats.
Storm drainage systems and rain gardens, for example, are already in place, collecting and channeling some of the stormwater load into the ground. Bioswales, bioretention planters and permeable pavement systems offer other modes of stormwater discharge and filtration, assigning it a reuse function as well.
The architect also proposed transitioning hardscape surfaces along the harbor, such as the Town of Brookhaven parking lot, as green space, which could add scenic value while acting as a floodwater sponge.
The next stages of the study will involve collecting more resident feedback and defining projects worth public consideration. Schwarting said a similar meeting would take place as those phases progress.
“We will start to move toward solving the problem now that we have spent quite a bit of time understanding the problem,” Schwarting said.
Kassay acknowledged the complexities of the flooding question, referring to these initial findings as “a little overwhelming.” Despite this, she maintained that planning and intervention remain the proper path forward.
“The only thing worse than digging into this problem is to ignore it because it’s happening, whether or not we do something,” she said. “We really need to come together to prioritize, make these decisions and support this work so that it is guided toward the result that you wish to see as a community.”
To view the full presentation and the Q&A portion of the meeting, see video above. To respond to the Port Jefferson Village Climate Resilience Survey, scan the QR code.
The Port Jefferson community marked yet another successful Easter Parade this year, with hundreds turning out for the festivities.
Hosted by the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, the parade route started at Theatre Three, working down Main and finishing at Harborfront Park. Once there, a wild frenzy ensued, with children and parents rushing to the park to collect the hidden eggs.
Fun and merriment went all around, the community and chamber capping off another memorable annual Easter tradition.
The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees unanimously approved the annual budget Monday evening, April 3, though appropriations weren’t top of mind for the sea of residents crowding the boardroom.
Dozens turned out to confront the board over its recent decision to extend the terms of service for village offices from two to four years — a decision it promptly reversed. Less than 90 days until village elections, the community and board instead now grapple with the competing demands of streamlining election administration and public oversight over term changes.
“We wanted to kind of say ‘sorry’ and take a giant step backward,” Mayor Margot Garant told the public.
Upon rescinding the resolution, the mayor noted the need to relieve village clerk Barbara Sakovich in administering the coming June elections, adding that neighboring municipalities have generally implemented such changes.
“Probably the majority of other townships and municipalities — villages specifically — have their elections in March and have moved to four-year terms,” she said. “I think it’s the direction we may all agree to at some point,” but the board is “taking pause” before rendering further judgment.
Trustee Rebecca Kassay offered to begin exploring how other municipalities procedurally implemented term changes, keeping open the possibility of forming a committee to collect public input on the matter.
“Please look probably to the next meeting if you want to get this going while everyone has it in mind,” she said, adding the board “will be talking more about the process of helping to gather resident input and really handing it to the residents to make these decisions.”
In the wake of the reversal, Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden and trustee Lauren Sheprow, both mayoral candidates, offered their commentary. Snaden said she had a change of opinion after learning of the high signature threshold to move the measure onto the June ballot via permissive referendum.
“It just made sense to me at the time, again, because of the ability for the residents to come forth and let us know,” she said. “After that happened and I heard from some residents — what the numbers were for them to bring forth the permissive referendum, that’s when I said that’s burdensome.”
The deputy mayor added, “We’ve had discussions, and we talked about bringing it tonight and considered rescinding and starting from scratch, giving it to you guys to say to us what you want to do.”
Sheprow raised the possibility of the village acquiring electronic voting machines ahead of the June elections.
“What we didn’t realize when we were meeting, and it really wasn’t discussed holistically at the last meeting, was whether or not there are voting machines available to rent or purchase,” she said. “As long as they’re certified by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, we have that option available to us.”
Leaders of the recently resurrected Port Jefferson Civic Association made formal contact with the village government, exchanging introductions and outlining their organizational agenda.
Civic president Ana Hozyainova thanked the board for rescinding the resolution for term extensions but asked for more public input over village decision-making.
“The civic association didn’t take a stance on whether it should be two or four years but really took objection to the fact that such an important issue which doesn’t have a clear-cut solution … was taken without any public debate,” she said, adding that more public deliberations over fortifying the eroding East Beach bluff could have occurred.
The board approved $0.50 increases in managed parking rates for weekdays and weekends, setting the rates at $1 per hour Monday through Thursday and $1.50 per hour Friday through Sunday.
Village treasurer Denise Mordente delivered the fiscal year budget presentation, highlighting the budgetary constraints imposed by rising inflation and costs, also declining public revenues from the Long Island Power Authority through the Port Jefferson Power Station.
“The interest for our [bond anticipation notes], gasoline, heating oil, all of that ties in,” Mordente said. “We tried as best as we can to not put the burden again on the taxpayers.”
The budget increased by 7% from last year from $10.59 million to $11.37 million. However, the village drew $257,882 from its $1.8 million fund balance to minimize tax increases, Mordente explained. The village lost roughly $107,000 through the LIPA glide path agreement, with 15% and 20% increases in medical benefits and insurance, respectively.
The village committed to reductions in staff, opting against filling some vacant positions while assigning multiple titles to existing personnel. The administration also instituted a spending freeze for department heads, who stayed within their respective budgets from last year.
“The overall for our tax increase on an average house of $1,500 [assessed valuation] is $75 a year,” Mordente said. “We’re trying not to impact the way of life for our village.”
The Board of Trustees will meet again Tuesday, April 18, at 3 p.m., with scheduled presentations from Johnson Controls and the Six Acre Park Committee.
To watch the full general meeting, see video above.
Village of Port Jefferson officials are currently rolling out PASSPort, a first-of-its-kind rideshare service tailored for within-the-village transit.
Kevin Wood, the parking and mobility administrator in PJV, worked closely with the village Board of Trustees to develop the software and systems to accommodate PASSPort. Now the service is undergoing beta testing, with plans for public use along the horizon.
PASSPort functions similarly to other popular platforms in the private sector, tapping into the same technologies used by services such as Uber but repurposing them for local municipal oversight and administration.
Under the current plan, Wood said the program remains flexible, subject to villagers’ evolving needs. “There is no parallel to this on Long Island,” he said.
While the village has attempted to administer similar transit services in the past, Wood held that PASSPort represents a significant departure from any past or current offerings. “The closest you came to this were crosstown electric car methods that, in Port Jefferson, have proven to not work for various reasons,” he said.
He added that through PASSPort, the village government hopes to move away from the public perception surrounding those previous models, which he said were ill suited for winter weather and unable to traverse the area’s steep hills.
Wood noted the various opportunities for residents to make use of PASSPort. According to him, the platform could potentially enhance mobility for those traveling to village beaches, elderly residents unable to operate a car and residents traveling downtown.
Although some apps, such as Uber, bar minors from accessing their service, Wood kept open the possibility in Port Jeff, saying that the village is working through legal parameters of creating a parental authorization process to enable the pickup and drop-off of local students.
The parking and mobility administrator also touched upon the subject of PASSPort vehicle operators. For him, the vehicles would ideally be operated by professional, third-party drivers who would be “exclusive to us for that night” during a designated period.
“We want them to have a certain amount of professional aspect to what they’re doing,” he said. “That’s an important part of this — to monitor not only the integrity of the service itself and timeliness but the courtesy of the driver.” Given the program’s flexibility, he said he could foresee accommodating multiple drivers a night if needed.
Pricing is also variable, with Wood hoping to learn more about this facet of the program as the program rolls out for public use. Measuring PASSPort against taxicabs and other rideshare methods, he foresees clear advantages to the village program.
“We know that if you took a taxi, that would be … one, a different experience; two, they’d have to be available; and three, that price, I understand, is between $7 and $10,” he said. “We think we’re coming out with a more efficient service, much better technology and we’re still pricing it at the $5 to $8 per person level.”
While PASSPort unleashes private sector technologies for municipal administration, Wood suggested the program is not necessarily intended to outcompete rival services. Instead, he viewed the platform as a village service.
“We’re not in the business of competing with mobility — we’re in the business of serving our residents,” he said. “If someone chooses us over [other rideshare service providers], it’s because of safety, efficiency, pricing and you’re going to see a whole lot of promotion.”
Moreover, Wood said he believes the broader trends are gradually shifting away from individually operated motor vehicles, accelerated by myriad factors, such as congestion pricing and rising costs associated with vehicle maintenance.
“Owning a car today is almost becoming a liability because of insurance costs, gas and all the things associated with it,” he said. “I think ‘mobility’ is the keyword you want to use here — getting to where you have to go in the most efficient way possible.”
Wood, who worked in the technology and marketing sectors before entering the administration, said he discovered a natural blend of his professional experiences while creating the rideshare service.
Through PASSPort, he said village leaders could effectively boost mobility by integrating new tech and municipal administration. He indicated that rideshare programs such as PASSPort represent the future of municipal servicing.
“I love to see the world of technology and entrepreneurial thinking coming to the government,” he said. “Why not adapt and engage with technology?”
Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden, trustee liaison for parking and mobility, has closely coordinated with Wood in launching the service, expressing optimism for its implementation.
“We’re thrilled for this program,” she said. “We saw a need for residents to be able to visit their downtown. Downtown is not just about the tourists, it’s about the residents.”
The deputy mayor also noted that PASSPort could ease the burden of transit on residents and parking congestion on businesses, saying, “They don’t have to worry about bringing their cars down or about parking. They can get to and from in a safe manner, and it will additionally help the businesses in opening up parking spaces for the people coming in from outside the village.”
Wood said more information regarding PASSPort would be made public in the coming weeks.
The stakes for the future of Port Jefferson are very high. It seems we have a real election this June in Port Jefferson, so we need a real contest of ideas.
I have iterated many issues for this campaign in The Port Times Record. More are specified here. We know Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden and trustee Stan Loucks will have much support from the development class. Will trustee Lauren Sheprow and trustee candidate Bob Juliano represent the residents?
Years of hard work and research done by our Port Jefferson residents for the master plan committee have been discarded in favor of developers’ plans for future intensive — and not always attractive — development.
I believe our current leadership has permitted blight to be exploited in order to extract concessions for larger zoning — zoning not recommended by our residents’ committee.
The Industrial Development Agency of Brookhaven Town is giving away our tax base. What is “industrial” about apartment developments?
As a former school board member and president, I worked productively on repowering and to improve our tax base for 12 years, then leading this fight on our village board of trustees for eight years after that.
I speak regularly with National Grid leaders and have addressed our issues and advocated with LIPA’s CEO, Thomas Falcone. Who will lead this effort, which has such a profound impact on our tax base? What is their network to do this?
I worked on our environmental issues for 30 years. The Conservation Advisory Committee needs to be made a board again. The Architectural Review Committee should be made a board.
The ride from Port Jeff only gets worse. All our elected leaders want “a better ride.” But who will “herd the cats,” so to speak? We need leadership to galvanize and focus around these efforts.
Looking at recent events, I fear the Long Island Rail Road will eliminate the Port Jefferson Branch line completely. I have worked to secure better service and clean energy service. We need to coordinate our efforts with our neighbors in Port Jefferson Station/Terryville.
Tax revenue is going down, with a significant chance of plummeting. Debt will be going way up. Taxes are going up. There are options for solar power that can recoup some of this revenue.
I have the network to implement these strategies. So far, my efforts to implement these strategies have not been ignored — they have been rejected. Cleaner air, more revenue? We cannot let petty politics continue to thwart residents’ interests.
For a long time, merchants have advocated parking garages in Port Jefferson. Residents do not want Port Jefferson to look like Queens. I have proposed underground parking garages. Yes, this can be done. The Dutch have done this, creating parks to enhance their country and eliminating flooding at a bargain.
How to pay for this? Claim our share of town, county, state and federal funds for open-space preservation in the form of open-space creation — “parks above parking.” This makes our village more attractive to visitors and prospective residents.
Claim infrastructure-hardening funding. Remember what the Dutch have done. Lease newly created parkland to restaurants for alfresco dining. Other parties may see value in this option as well. Let’s not forget parking fees.
Merchants pay the village PILOPS — payments in lieu of parking spots. But there could be actual parking spots to purchase by investing in Port Jefferson.
Condominiumize parking slots. Merchants and investors could purchase parking spots in prime locations for their exclusive use or derive revenue and tax deductions.
Our downtown businesses, apartments and fire department suffer from toxic intrusion when they flood. Investing in health is always a wise decision.
If you want a better future, we need to ask hard questions of our candidates.
Bruce Miller is a former Port Jefferson Village trustee
Frequent elections are a common feature of healthy, vibrant democracies. Here in the Village of Port Jefferson, the community should recognize the value elections bring.
Biennial elections, or those held every two years, have been in place since the village’s incorporation. However, during a business meeting held Monday, March 20, the Port Jeff Board of Trustees voted unanimously to alter the length of terms for village mayor, trustees and judges from two to four years.
At TBR News Media, we view one of our roles as watchdog of local government for the people. The free press must shine light upon power, especially power wielded hastily and imprudently. We, therefore, regard Monday’s decision as irresponsible and advise the voting public to reverse course.
Biennial elections strengthen the ties between elected officials and their constituents. Up for election every two years, the representative continuously returns to the people, selling his or her vision to the public, receiving ideas in exchange. This symbiotic process keeps governmental decisions reflective of the public will.
During debates over ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Americans argued most vehemently over the structure of Congress. At the height of those debates, James Madison, in Federalist No. 52, advanced the most coherent and convincing rationale for maintaining two-year terms in the House of Representatives.
“As it is essential to liberty that the government in general should have a common interest with the people,” Madison wrote, “so it is particularly essential that the branch of it under consideration should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.”
The “intimate sympathy” between congressmen and their districts — kindled through biennial elections — distinguishes the lower chamber as the “People’s House.” Over more than two centuries after ratification, we still elect congressional representatives every two years.
But an even greater incentive remains for preserving the current system in Port Jeff. This year’s election season is already underway, with three of the five members of the current board seeking election in less than 90 days.
Whether or not the board appreciates this fact, Monday’s vote comes at a delicate historical moment. Within the broader national context, many are losing faith in American democracy, as both major political parties and an often-unrestrained national press and social media work in tandem to erode public trust in our democratic norms.
Election denial is becoming a mainstay of our national political discourse. Allegations of voter fraud, voter suppression and election interference are commonplace today. Monday’s vote signals a lack of awareness of these broader currents, setting a dangerous precedent by localizing our national democratic defects.
Finally, the term extensions flatly disregard ongoing concerns among some villagers who fear the decisions made by this board might be made in an untransparent and undemocratic manner. By extending their terms and expanding the scope of their powers, board members risk further alienating residents from the decision-making process.
The village government has some serious work ahead. Between declining public revenue, a rising budget and a sometimes disillusioned electorate, policymaking now more than ever requires close coordination between village officials and their community. Monday’s outcome does the opposite, creating more distance and potentially shielding representatives from public scrutiny.
Citizens have recourse. Under the New York Village Law, the voters can overturn this resolution through a permissive referendum. We encourage residents to do their part to help collect the necessary signatures, then to defeat this ill-conceived measure at the ballot box in June.
But more must be done to reinvigorate democracy in Port Jeff. Too few attend village board meetings or write us letters detailing their local concerns. A lack of public participation communicates a lack of interest to the board. Citizens must actively engage and work with their local government.
May this board and electorate rediscover the power of intimate sympathy. May shared love of democracy bind citizens to their local representatives once again. As June nears, let the chimes of liberty ring out loudly in Port Jefferson village.
Managed parking in the Village of Port Jefferson has gone live.
Starting on Wednesday, March 15, paid parking in the village is active seven days a week, from noon to 11 p.m. Rates are $0.50 per hour from Monday through Thursday and $1 per hour from Friday through Sunday.
This season, the village is embarking on new tweaks to its system, metering vehicles by plate number instead of space number.
Parking meters and the village-operated digital parking software, Honk, will ask parkers for their license plate numbers. Parkers with valid handicap permits will park free of charge.
This parking season, the village has also introduced the License Plate Reader permitting system, enabling residents to park at village lots without a sticker. To apply for a resident, owner or rental permit, visit: portjeff.com/residentparking.
Leaders of the newly reconfigured Port Jefferson Civic Association formally entered their posts during a swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, March 8, and went straight to work during the first official executive board meeting.
Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) officiated over the ceremony, swearing the newly elected civic leaders into their positions at the outset of the meeting. Kornreich, who had previously served as president of the Three Village Civic Association, outlined the value that civic groups can add to a community.
“I can tell you, as an elected, that the role of the civic is incredibly important because we want to get a sense of what the community thinks,” he said. “Your electeds in the village, and for things related to the Town of Brookhaven, we’re going to come to you.”
He added, “It’s a big responsibility because you have to reach out and be representatives of your community, and I’m very grateful to you all for stepping up to take this important responsibility.”
He then presented each officer with a town proclamation. The executive board is represented by civic president Ana Hozyainova, vice president Holly Fils-Aime, secretary Carol Macys Fox, treasurer Marilyn Damaskos and outreach officer Kathleen McLane.
Following the ceremony, the board quickly got moving, detailing the local issues it would prioritize. Based on a vote among the body, the most significant priority for the civic will be to advocate for voter input on major construction projects within the village.
The second will be to enhance walkability and calm traffic while referring to the village’s 2030 Comprehensive Plan to guide new development.
Third on the list is advocating for villagewide oversight and enforcement over planting and clearing. And the final item is creating a close partnership with the village Conservation Advisory Committee to preserve open space.
“Part of the reason why the civic association was created is because we found, as individual citizens, very little traction when engaging with trustees on those individual issues,” said Hozyainova. “Coming together as a formal association, we hope that we can start that conversation in a more fruitful way.”
To work toward implementing the civic’s collective goals and vision, the executive board brought in backup. Sal Pitti, vice president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, and Kornreich sat in on the executive board meeting, offering the newly installed leaders techniques for dealing with local government.
Pitti emphasized the value of high turnout and a growing body. “Get numbers on your side,” he said. “The more people you have on your side, the more they’re going to listen,” adding, “There’s always power in numbers.”
Pitti also recommended working to accomplish small tasks to help grow resident interest in the civic. “Get yourself a high school liaison, like we have at our meetings,” he said. “We have one of the kids at the high school telling people about events.” This method, he maintained, fosters interest from parents and boosts turnout at monthly meetings.
One of the core areas of concern among the PJCA body, according to Hozyainova, is the issue of coastal erosion at East Beach, which has endangered the restaurant and catering facility at the Port Jefferson Country Club.
“We are concerned about paying for a wall that might or might not survive the next few years,” Hozyainova said. She continued by saying that the village government has yet to comprehensively consider managed retreat away from the bluff.
Pitti recommended that the civic association establish new connections within the village so that important public announcements do not go unnoticed by residents. “Try to set up a new system working with the village, that they advise you directly when all these things happen,” he said.
Hozyainova suggested many of the decision-making processes and responsibilities within the village government tend to be consolidated within just a few hands. “A lot of decisions are made without extensive consultation, and very few people ask questions,” the PJCA president said.
To rectify this issue, Kornreich advised the board to forge tighter working relationships with village board members to develop more collaborative exchanges between elected officials and the public.
“Building those relationships with trustees is vitally important,” the councilmember said.
He added that educating civic members on local issues is another responsibility to promote a better-informed civic body and public. “Educate your members,” Kornreich said, adding, “You educate your members so that they understand” the local issues at stake.
Kornreich also mentioned that disseminating important information to the village would be another key function of civic leadership. This, he added, is especially important when it comes to advertising the civic to community members.
Pitti said one of the best investments for PJSTCA has been its website, which he said represents a vital organ for getting the message across to the public.
“That’s how we get our information out,” he said. “People come and join us there all the time. They love to see what’s going on in the community.”
Let’s return to a small high school in Cherry Valley, near Cooperstown, where I was an all-county athlete in three different sports. The school was small, and the village was also small, to the extent that I could not fulfill my goals to work with and help people and different organizations.
After high school graduation, I went to SUNY Cortland, where I majored in physical education and health education. This was perfect. I knew this would lead me to a career that would also allow me to work with children and adults. As a senior, I was fortunate to meet Peggy Ulmer, who eventually became my wife.
Graduation came quickly, and I landed on Long Island, where schools were expanding and springing up all over Nassau and Suffolk counties. I took a position in the Plainview-Old Bethpage school district as a physical education teacher. Wow, 13 schools and over 10,000 students. Indeed, it wasn’t Cherry Valley.
Over the next 34 years in Plainview, I moved from teacher to athletic director of the junior high to athletic director of the high school and eventually to districtwide director of athletics. Every day of every year, I was doing what I loved, working with youngsters and adults in classrooms and various athletic facilities.
In 1980, we bought land and built our home in Port Jefferson. This was one of the best decisions we ever made. I immediately joined the Port Jefferson Country Club to play tennis and golf. I volunteered to serve on the tennis board and eventually became its chair. I also ran for a position on the board of governors, was elected and became the chair of that board. I was forever expanding what I loved doing, giving my time to make things better.
Then in 1995, retirement came along. Now what? A major part of my time became open and empty. I turned to the country club, where I volunteered to work as chair of the greens committee. That committee work eventually led to my appointment to the country club’s management advisory committee. I was elected chair of that committee in 2005 and served until Mayor Margot Garant finally twisted my arm enough to run for village trustee. I am at a point now where I am asking to continue working for the betterment of our community.
I often hear the comment, “I want to finish what we have started.” Well, I know that there is no finish. A challenge is always waiting to be solved, fixed, improved or implemented. I welcome each one and will work tirelessly toward success. Do we always reach what we want? No, but I guarantee 100% effort.
My vision going forward involves maintaining our infrastructure, providing a safe community through solid code enforcement, providing an all-encompassing recreation program, upgrading our beautiful parks and beaches, finding new sources of revenue and working to keep our budget under control. These items are the responsibility of the entire board of trustees.
More specifically, each trustee is the liaison to a different facet of our village government. Currently, I am the liaison to the parks department, which includes all of our parks and beaches, and liaison to the country club. I know that many of you have never had the opportunity to see the entire club, and I would love to show it to you. Call me at 631-275-3730 or email me at trust[email protected], and I will give you a tour of your club.
The country club serves over 500 members, runs on a $2.9 million budget, increases all of our property values and costs the nonmember resident zero dollars. Yes, your country club is totally independent while still being a wonderful village asset.
We are working on expanding the social aspect, which should be present at the club. We have constructed a beautiful patio with a barbecue station and a separate patio that contains a firepit.
The club employs two full-time certified PGA professionals who offer group and private lessons and clinics, and camps for all ages. These camps, clinics and lessons are available to everyone.
We are excited that we will have access to East Beach this summer. To that end, the parks department is renovating both bathrooms at the beach and also bringing those kayak racks back into our system. To learn more about your club and parks, visit portjeff.com or portjeffcc.com.
So, we not only found out how I became a trustee, but we discovered what I have done, what I am doing and what I can do moving forward.
The decades-long proposal to electrify the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road is nearing yet another derailment.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, public owner of LIRR, is expected to unveil its 2025-2044 20-Year Needs Assessment in October. Larry Penner, a transportation analyst and former director for Federal Transit Administration Region 2, considered that document pivotal for the project’s future advancement.
“If the project is not included in that 20-year document, then none of us are going to be alive to see electrification,” he said, adding pessimistically that electrification “is not on the radar screen” of senior MTA or state-level officials.
Requests for comment submitted to the press offices of the MTA, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1) went unanswered.
A cry unheard
‘It’s appalling that they’re using diesel in this day and age.’
— Bruce Miller
Generations of North Shore residents and community leaders have called upon the MTA to electrify the Port Jeff line to no avail.
Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has been among Long Island’s loudest and most prominent proponents of electrification in recent years. In an interview with TBR News Media last summer, he said public investment has shifted away from the Island.
“Our voice has not been raised,” he said. “There hasn’t been an investment in providing modern technology” to this region.
Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant voiced similar frustrations. According to her, a fully electrified rail would boost local and regional economies, expediting travel to Manhattan and between North Shore communities, namely transit to and from nearby powerhouse Stony Brook University.
The project “would incentivize people being able to take the train not only into Stony Brook but into the city in a really timely manner,” she said.
From an environmental perspective, former Port Jeff Village trustee Bruce Miller decried the existing railway infrastructure as “ludicrous.”
“It’s appalling that they’re using diesel in this day and age,” he said, adding, “Everyone is making every effort for green energy in all fields except for the MTA and the Long Island Rail Road.”
State legislators join the cause
Local leaders are not alone in their disappointment over the long delay. State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) condemned what he considered an imbalance between the state taxes Long Island spends and the infrastructure dollars it gets from Albany.
“Long Islanders already contribute greatly to the MTA and deserve better access to more reliable and dependable rail service,” he said in an email, referring to Port Jefferson Branch electrification as a “critical project.”
At the western end of the branch, state Assemblyman Keith Brown (R-Northport), whose district includes travelers from Huntington, Greenlawn and Northport stations, expressed dismay over the state’s billowing budget yet few returns for North Shore residents.
He noted the apparent contradiction between Albany’s green energy priorities and the MTA’s continued use of diesel locomotives, which are due for replacement in the coming years.
Referencing the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which targets an 85% reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050, Brown regarded the continued dependence upon diesel technology as inconsistent with state law.
“They can’t really replace the existing fleet with diesel trains,” he said. “At the same time they’re calling to stop the use of gas in homes, the MTA and LIRR can’t be purchasing diesel locomotives.”
The Empire State Passenger Association is a transit advocacy group that aims for improvements in public transportation services throughout New York state. ESPA president Gary Prophet said the passenger association has endorsed Port Jefferson Branch electrification over the years, referring to the project as necessary and justifiable given the volume of commuters along the line.
“That is a heavily used branch of the Long Island Rail Road that should be electrified,” he said. “It probably should have been electrified in the past, but it just hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons.”
A history of inaction
The original concept of Port Jeff line electrification dates back over half a century. However, planning began in earnest in the early 1970s when electrification of the North Shore line extended up to Huntington.
Derek Stadler, associate professor and web services librarian at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, has closely followed historical developments along the Port Jeff Branch.
He attributes the failures to electrify the line to a combination of resistance from property owners near the tracks, engineering challenges, financial setbacks and bad luck.
“In the ‘80s, they had money set aside to start working on it though they hadn’t secured the funds to complete it,” he said. “Then in 1985, the president of the MTA postponed that indefinitely.” Stadler contends this was the closest the project ever was to moving forward.
In the ‘90s, the MTA launched a fleet of dual-mode locomotives which are still in use today. Despite the good intentions, Stadler maintains that this fleet has not adequately substituted for electric service. Given the high costs to repair and replace outdated train cars, Stadler regarded this effort as a poor long-term investment.
“They have spent more money on that new fleet and repairing them than if they would have done the electrification way back in the ‘80s,” he said.
‘If I’m the MTA, I’m electrifying the East End before I electrify the North Shore.’
— Richard Murdocco
The current cost estimate of Port Jeff Branch electrification is $3.6 billion, though that figure will almost certainly climb. To secure these dollars, however, the North Shore is competing against other project proposals across Long Island and New York state.
Throughout LIRR’s history as a public railroad company, North Shore riders have lost out consistently to their inland counterparts traveling along the Ronkonkoma line. Richard Murdocco, adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at SBU, chronicled this pattern, saying the pursuit of Port Jeff Branch electrification continues running up against the hard realities of the MTA’s prioritization scheme.
“The question is: Is electrification really the priority on the North Shore, or should you electrify east of Ronkonkoma?” Murdocco said. Given the spur of recent growth in Yaphank and new developments in the Town of Riverhead, he added, “If I’m the MTA, I’m electrifying the East End before I electrify the North Shore.”
Further hampering investment into the Port Jeff Branch is the topography along its route. Given the large hills and frequent bends, the flatter main line may win the day for its comparably simple engineering logistics.
Murdocco said the MTA could either electrify the Port Jeff Branch, which “meanders along the hilly terrain, or you get a straight shot through the Pine Barrens, where there’s already talk of them doing it, where they’re welcoming it and where there are no neighbors to disrupt.”
‘Suffolk County does not have the political clout that it used to.’
— Larry Penner
Political and financial distress
Penner claims the political and financial currents are also working against North Shore residents. Suffolk County’s state representatives are increasingly in the legislative minority in Albany, leaving mere “crumbs on the table” for infrastructure improvements.
“Suffolk County does not have the political clout that it used to,” he said.
Even so, the MTA is encountering a systemwide economic crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic, with daily ridership hovering around 65% from pre-pandemic levels. Murdocco insists that many of the labor trends unleashed by COVID-19 will likely linger indefinitely.
“There’s no denying remote work is here to stay,” the SBU adjunct professor said, adding, “We don’t know how long the ramifications of the pandemic will last.”
Meanwhile, the MTA is facing even greater fiscal strife over looming labor negotiations. With recent inflation, Penner said the agency could lose potentially hundreds of millions from renegotiated union contracts.
“All of this plays into the bigger picture of MTA’s overall health,” Penner said, which he considered dismal based on state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s (D) most recent analysis. “They’re barely staying afloat maintaining existing service, systems and repairs,” the former FTA official added.
Penner, Stadler and Murdocco expressed collective pessimism about Port Jefferson Branch electrification getting underway within the next decade. “As of right now, I do not see this project happening within 10 years because I do not see a fiscal way for anyone to pay for it, given the MTA’s current financial status,” Murdocco said.
Looking for answers
Given the hefty $3.6 billion price tag, Miller proposed exploring alternatives to electric service. He cited examples in Germany, where zero-emission hydrogen-powered train cars recently went online.
“Hydrogen technology is new but they’ve developed it, and it’s working in Germany,” the former village trustee said. “I don’t think they’re exploring enough options here.”
But implementing high-tech propulsion technologies may be out of reach for the MTA, which uses a late 19th-century fuel source to power the Port Jeff line. When asked about these potential innovations, Brown expressed skepticism.
“As far as hydrogen is concerned, that’s all it is right now — experimental,” the state assemblyman said. Rather, he favored pursuing electrification in a piecemeal, station-by-station fashion, dispersing infrastructure funds for the project over several annual budgets.
Penner implored community members to adopt a policy of maximum pressure upon their elected representatives.
“I wouldn’t give a dime to any elected official unless, with your campaign contribution, there’s a little note in your check [that says] you have to promise me that electrification of Port Jefferson will be your number one transportation priority,” he said.
Stadler emphasized executive support, arguing that several system expansions during the administration of former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R) were made possible by the chief executive’s commitment to seeing them through.
“A lot of money has to be budgeted for it,” he said. “State leaders have to be involved in it, and pressure from the governor” can be a reliable instrument.
To make the electrification dream a reality, Garant said all levels of government should pool their energies around this cause. “It’s certainly going to be a long-term plan for the region,” she said. “You need partners on every level, from the federal and state levels to the town and county.”
Prophet said megaprojects, such as the $11 billion East Side Access extension into Grand Central Madison, have taken up much of the political and economic capital in New York state.
“I think there’s a lot of emphasis on large projects that make a big splash,” the passenger association president said. “Politicians need to spend a little more time on smaller projects that may not make a big splash but may help commuters and people looking to travel between cities.”
Setting the stakes, Penner returned to the 20-year capital needs assessment. He equated the North Shore’s present predicament to a baseball game.
“You’re in the ninth inning with two outs,” he said. “The last at-bat is the 2025-2044 20-year capital needs assessment.” He concluded by saying, “If this project is not included in that document, then the ball game is over.”