The Catholic Church on Long Island is protesting Sunday's shutdown of Montauk Highway for the inaugural Suffolk County Marathon, saying hundreds of churchgoers will be prevented or impeded from attending Mass.
However Suffolk officials said they had taken the church's concerns into account and will deploy police officers to make sure people can access their places of worship.
"While the idea of a marathon and its support for veterans is laudable, it surprises and dismays me that this road closure seems to have been chosen without any regard for the Christian observance of Sunday Worship," Bishop William Murphy, head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said in a news release Tuesday.
But Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Tuesday Suffolk had reached out to all institutions that might be affected by the event, including the bishop himself, as well as the parishes and other churches along the marathon's route.
He cited electronic and mailed communications between County Executive Steve Bellone and Murphy, while explaining the discrepancy may stem from miscommunication between the church and the county.
Schneider said Bellone sent a letter to Murphy on Aug. 27 acknowledging the bishop's concerns and outlining steps the county was taking to limit the race's impact, including assigning "additional officers to these locations so that come race day, our police officers will be able to safely direct residents to their places of worship as we work to mitigate any inconveniences this great event may cause some of our residents."
Diocese spokesman Sean Dolan said Tuesday night that Murphy never received the letter.
Montauk Highway will be closed from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. from Great River to Patchogue to accommodate an expected 3,200 runners, who will be competing in full and half marathons in both directions on the roadway.
Proceeds from the events will go toward expanding service for veterans and active military personnel living in Suffolk, county officials said.
The bishop said the Montauk Highway closure will make attending Mass a challenge at three churches on or near the road -- Church of St. Lawrence the Martyr in Sayville, Our Lady of the Snow in Blue Point and St. Francis de Sales in Patchogue.
However, a post on St. Lawrence's Facebook page said the parish would "be setting up a water stand, as well as having people cheer on the runners!" on marathon Sunday.
Officials from the diocese and St. Lawrence the Martyr, which has a congregation of hundreds, have tried to talk to Bellone's office, but those attempts "have gone unanswered," the diocese said in Tuesday's news release.
Spectators and residents will be limited to crossing Montauk Highway during the race; designated crossing areas will be staffed by police directing traffic in Oakdale, West Sayville, Sayville, Bayport, Blue Point and Patchogue.
The optimal crossing times will be before 8:30 a.m., between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., and after 12:30 p.m., according to the county executive's office.
"We do want to stress that there is expected to be heavy runner traffic on Montauk Highway between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and between 10:30 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., which will make it difficult, though not impossible, to cross at those times," Bellone said in a letter to residents.
There will be no parking on Montauk Highway from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, and vehicles left there will be towed, officials said.
In addition to the designated crossing areas, parking is available north of Montauk Highway, at either the Oakdale train station or the Oakdale-Bohemia Middle School.
Those wishing to leave their car at one of the parking locations can do so, and then take a free shuttle, courtesy of Suffolk Bus Corp. The shuttle will run from residents' homes to Montauk Highway, near the parking sites.
Those wishing to use the free shuttle service should call 631-738-1150 any time after 8 a.m. on Sunday, officials said.
More information on the marathon is at suffolkmarathon.com.
With Gary Dymski