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Carl MacGowan

With my colleague Deon J. Hampton, I cover the Town of Brookhaven and its villages and hamlets. What we try to offer is an ongoing chronicle of an enormous town — that stretches from the Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean — as it grapples with development pressures, environmental issues and the challenge of maintaining programs in the face of the state tax cap. You’ll see us scribbling notes at municipal meetings, so stop by and say hello.

Brookhaven IDA OKs $16M tax break for Ronkonkoma Hub plan

A rendering of proposed new buildings on Main

(Credit: Town of Brookhaven, Tritec Real Estate)

The Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency has approved a $16 million tax cut package for the Ronkonkoma Hub retail and residential project.

The package -- including exemptions from sales and use taxes on purchases of construction equipment and building material -- was approved unanimously during an IDA board meeting Wednesday.

The IDA board also approved plans allowing developer...

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Local officials want court order suspending dune restoration on Fire Island lifted

Local officials Wednesday blasted a federal judge's decision to suspend a Fire Island dune restoration project to protect endangered birds.

U.S. District Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein last week ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to delay the project's first two phases to protect piping plover breeding grounds at Suffolk County's Smith Point County Park and Fire Island Lighthouse Beach. The park and the lighthouse beach lie within the federal Fire Island National Seashore.

The temporary restraining order, requested by the New York chapter of the Audubon Society, does not affect the third phase, aimed at rebuilding dunes to protect Fire Island communities. The next hearing in the case is set for Oct. 8.


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The federal plan calls for rebuilding dunes that would be 13 to 15 feet high and stretch for about 19 miles along Fire Island beaches. Dredging of 7 million cubic yards of sand was expected to start soon.

Several officials ridiculed the judge's order during a news conference at Smith Point park in Shirley. They said restoring the dunes would protect Long Island homes from storm surges like the one that flooded houses during superstorm Sandy.

"I love the piping plover," Islip Supervisor Tom Croci, a Republican, said. "But the species I care about the most are the human beings."

State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said New York's recovery from Sandy has been slow compared with New Jersey's. "You go to the Jersey Shore, it looks the same way it was in the first place," he said.

Federal officials said Wednesday the first contract related to the dune project was to have been awarded last week but was postponed by Feuerstein's order.

In a statement, Meredith Kelly, a spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), said federal and state officials had approved the dune project. "The only thing standing in the way of dune construction is the Audubon lawsuit."

In a phone interview, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said the delay caused by the order was "deeply, deeply unfortunate."

"All of us are frustrated that these projects take as long as they do," Bishop said.

Zeldin, who is seeking to unseat Bishop, declined to criticize the congressman on dune restoration. "There's nothing partisan about sand," he said.

Mastic Beach resident Frank Fugarino, whose home was damaged during Sandy, said dune restoration is critical for homeowners. "What's at stake . . . is loss of life," he said.

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Yaphank repavement project to shut two roads Tuesday night

Parts of two roads in Yaphank will be closed Tuesday night for a paving project, the Brookhaven Town Highway Department announced.

Highway crews plan to repave Mill Road and Patchogue-Yaphank Road from 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through 7 a.m. Wednesday, a department spokesman said.

During those hours, Mill Road will be closed from a bridge just east of the Mill House Inn to Patchogue-Yaphank Road.

Patchogue-Yaphank Road will be closed from Mill Road to Long Island Avenue, the spokesman said.

Drivers should plan alternate routes, he said.

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Suffolk and town officials give grants to improve infrastructure at the Ronkonkoma Hub

A rendering of proposed new buildings on Main

A rendering of proposed new buildings on Main Street in the Ronkonkoma Hub project, near the Ronkonkoma LIRR station. (Credit: Town of Brookhaven, TRITEC Real Estate)

Suffolk County and Brookhaven officials on Monday announced a $2.3 million county grant for infrastructure improvements at the site of a Ronkonkoma development they said may help keep young people from leaving Long Island.

During a news conference at the Long Island Rail Road station that is expected to be the centerpiece of the $475 million Ronkonkoma Hub, County Executive Steve Bellone and other officials said the residential, retail and commercial project would help stanch "brain drain" -- the departure of young residents weary of scarce jobs and a lack of housing they can afford.

"You can shop, you can go to work, you can walk to a job," Bellone said of the Hub project, which would be built on about 50 acres between the Long Island Expressway and Long Island MacArthur Airport. "This is all about the future of Long Island, building the connections and creating the places where people want to stay.


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"If we are a region that cannot attract and retain young people, we are a region in decline."

Construction is expected to start next year, after Brookhaven Town approves site plans and building permits, said Rob Loscalzo, chief operating officer of East Setauket-based Tritec Real Estate, which is building the project.

When completed in about a decade, the Hub is expected to feature up to 1,450 apartments and 545,000 square feet of retail and office space. Many of the apartments will be priced to appeal to young people and seniors, officials have said.

The county grant is expected to help Tritec plan infrastructure upgrades such as wider roads, improved curbs and new sewer lines, officials said. The grant is part of a $5 million package -- including subsidies for economic development projects in Wyandanch, Huntington Station and Smithtown -- that is expected to be voted on by the county legislature on Oct. 7.

County Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) said Long Islanders pay millions in tax dollars to support local schools -- only to see many students leave when they grow up.

"They move to other communities where they have better opportunities," he said. "We need to build communities where they want to live, where they want to work. This is one of those communities."

As officials spoke, a small group of protesters held signs expressing opposition to possibly seizing land for the Hub by eminent domain. Town officials have said they don't plan to condemn property for the project.

Theodore Imbasciani, president of the Ronkonkoma Civic Association, who attended the news conference, said the organization supports the Hub despite concerns about the impact of traffic on local roads. He said the improvements should allay his worries.

"I don't want this to be a blighted area," he said.

Granting wishes

Proposed Suffolk County grants for economic development projects

$2.3 million: Ronkonkoma Hub

$2.25 million: Wyandanch Rising

$200,000: Smithtown central business district

$250,000: Huntington Station

$5 million: total grants

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Brookhaven waives fees for rain-swamped homes

Brookhaven Town Hall

Brookhaven Town Hall (Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis)

Brookhaven Town residents whose homes were damaged by torrential floods last month will find one less piece of red tape to deal with as they rebuild.

The town board voted unanimously last week to waive building fees for homeowners making repairs due to the Aug. 13 storm, which dumped a state-record 13.57 inches of rain at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

That could save homeowners hundreds of dollars when they repair flooded basements and oil burners, Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said.


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Romaine said about 2,000 homes in central Brookhaven hamlets such as Centereach, Holtsville, Holbrook and Selden were affected by the floods.

"These people suffered a terrible loss," he said. "The least that we can do is to say that if you suffered this damage, we're not going to make you pay any fees to get any permits to fix this damage."

Islip Town also has agreed to waive filing fees and emergency repair permit fees for homes and businesses damaged by the storm. The Babylon Town Board plans to waive building fees for flood victims, town spokesman Kevin Bonner said.

Many Long Island homeowners affected by the storm, especially those who live far from the South and North shores, are struggling to rebuild because they did not have flood insurance, officials have said.

Romaine and Islip and Babylon supervisors Tom Croci and Richard Schaffer have asked Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to request federal financial aid for towns and residents affected by the storm. Cuomo has said he is awaiting reports from the Federal Emergency Management Agency before requesting federal aid.

Romaine and Councilman Kevin LaValle said Brookhaven would refund homeowners who have already paid building fees to repair storm damage.

LaValle said he viewed damage to houses that was "the worst possible that you could imagine," such as flooding that turned yards into "lakes."

"This storm affected the most vulnerable people of Long Island. It affected people without flood insurance," he said.

Waiving building fees is "a way government can lead by example," LaValle said.

Romaine said the town also will not cite homeowners for building code violations found by town inspectors after the storm. "If that was discovered as a result of this rain event, we will not cite people," Romaine said.

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Town, county leaders worry FEMA may not provide aid for August flooding

Mike Grassullo wades through the water in front

Mike Grassullo wades through the water in front of his house in North Babylon to check on his vehicles Wednesday morning, Aug. 13, 2014. (Credit: Jim Staubitser)

Suffolk County and town officials say they are worried that the Federal Emergency Management Agency may reject financial aid for homeowners affected by the torrential August storm that flooded basements and yards.

County Executive Steve Bellone and the supervisors of Islip, Brookhaven and Babylon towns said this week that homeowners may not qualify for federal aid because damage caused by the Aug. 13 storm did not meet FEMA's criteria for disaster assistance.

FEMA spokesman Don Caetano said the agency is in the final stages of damage assessment and it was "premature" to speculate whether it would deny aid to residents.


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"None of our people have communicated that" to the towns, he said.

Local officials have estimated the storm -- which dumped a state-record 13.57 inches of rain at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma -- caused tens of millions of dollars' worth of damage.

In a letter sent this week to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, supervisors Tom Croci of Islip, Edward P. Romaine of Brookhaven and Richard Schaffer of Babylon said the state should step in to help homeowners who don't qualify for FEMA's Individual Assistance Program, which provides aid to homeowners affected by natural disasters.

"We implore you to show us exactly what government should be all about -- helping people in need," the supervisors wrote.

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said the governor is awaiting a report from FEMA before deciding whether to request federal assistance. She said the state and FEMA "are continuing to work together to assess damage."

Caetano said a FEMA inspection team is "crunching the numbers" to decide whether residents qualify. A determination is expected "sooner rather than later," he said.

FEMA considers monetary damages, the number of homes affected and the percentage of homes lacking flood insurance to determine aid eligibility, he said.

Croci said many residents affected by the floods "have no way to repair their homes and get back into their lives."

"I know that it's possible for FEMA to be able to help us, with the White House's support and the governor's support," he said in an interview. "I'm just hoping they can help."

Bellone said in a statement the storm "places an unmanageable financial burden on our residents. They deserve government support . . ."

With Sophia Chang

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Brookhaven Town officials pass measure requiring home carbon monoxide detectors

Brookhaven Town Hall is shown in this file

Brookhaven Town Hall is shown in this file photo. (Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis)

The Brookhaven Town Board Tuesday night adopted a measure that supporters said makes the town the first in the nation to require digital carbon monoxide detectors in homes.

Supporters said the device -- which alerts homeowners to the potentially deadly poison before it reaches dangerous levels -- may prevent tragedies like the death this year of a restaurant manager in Huntington Station.

The town board voted unanimously to require new homes to immediately install the devices, which cost between $35 and $150 each. Existing homes would be required to have at least one of the devices by Aug. 1, 2021. The law does not affect businesses.


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"I think this will help save lives," said Councilwoman Connie Kepert, who sponsored the legislation.

Neal Lewis, executive director of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, said before the vote that Brookhaven would be the first municipality in the nation to require digital detectors in homes. Hempstead and North Hempstead towns require the devices in "places of assembly," but not in homes or small businesses, he said.

"Brookhaven will be the first to say that all the residential [detectors] will be required to have this digital readout," Lewis said. "We're very excited that we have a town that is saying, 'We need to have a CO detector.' "

Unlike conventional detectors, which sound alarms when carbon monoxide reaches potentially lethal levels, digital units also show how much of the gas is present before it becomes dangerous, Lewis said.

Low levels of carbon monoxide, which may be emitted by car exhaust, ovens and furnaces, also cause maladies such as headaches, depression, memory loss, fatigue and lack of sleep, Lewis said.

Barbara LoMoriello, a holistic health coach from Huntington who spoke at the public hearing, said she was sickened by carbon monoxide several years ago.

"Had I had a detector that had shown the level, I would have known what was happening to myself," she said before the hearing. "It's important that we get these detectors. It's important that we get them into the homes."

Carbon monoxide poisoning causes more than 50,000 emergency room visits a year in the United States, according to a 2009 article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"People could be walking around with a range of illnesses and never thinking that it could be connected to some kind of mechanical instrument in their home," Lewis said.

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Brookhaven Town studies possible uses of Lawrence Aviation Superfund site

A dump truck enters the gate of the

A dump truck enters the gate of the former Lawrence Aviation site on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson Station on Tuesday morning, May 13, 2014. Sources said workers from the EPA were trying to determine whether asbestos had been illegally removed from the site. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

The site of an abandoned and contaminated Port Jefferson Station aircraft parts factory could become a commercial park for light industry, according to a draft land-use plan prepared by Brookhaven Town officials and local residents.

Any future uses of the 126-acre Lawrence Aviation property, a federal Superfund site, will have to wait about two decades while contaminated soil is removed.

Federal agents raided the Sheep Pasture Road site earlier this year to determine whether asbestos had been illegally released there or in the surrounding area. They also sought to determine whether asbestos was illegally removed from the factory and dumped elsewhere in violation of federal law.


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The draft land-use plan, which will be the subject of a Sept. 30 public hearing at Brookhaven Town Hall, suggests creating an overlay district on part of the property to encourage light industrial uses such as laundromats, banks, printing plants, lumberyards and research and development labs.

The plan was developed by town planning officials and a five-member citizens advisory committee appointed last year by the town board.

"I think it's a very good use of the property, not that anything is going to be built right away, but certainly by putting certain constraints on the property, you're going to control it," said advisory committee member Ed Garboski, president of the Port Jefferson Station-Terryville Civic Association.

Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright said the plan may be adjusted based on comments made by residents at public gatherings, such as one held Thursday at Comseqogue High School.

"I think there were some valid concerns raised by the community," Cartright said of the meeting, attended by several dozen residents. "The feedback from the community that I received was positive."

Garboski said some residents wanted a larger buffer around the property than the 100 feet proposed in the plan. He said future development of the property faces significant challenges -- including a mile-long toxic groundwater plume emanating from the site and about $10 million in tax liens against property owner Gerald Cohen.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has spent at least $27.3 million to clean up the shuttered factory, which closed more than 20 years ago.

"They probably have another 20 to 25 years of pumping [contaminated] water over there," Garboski said. "There wouldn't be too many people rushing to build something on that soil."

Advisory committee member Joan Nickeson, a board member of the Cumsewogue Historical Society, said the land use plan is an "excellent and important step forward," but she would be just as happy if the land was not developed.

"There's great wildlife in there and great habitats that have overcome the mess that mankind has made of it," Nickeson said. "If it could be preserved, that would be ideal."

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Vote

What is the biggest challenge facing environmentalists trying to save LI's threatened water system?

Nitrogen pollution from septic systems Too much polluted water runoff Weak environmental protections for the region Lack of water quality education

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Brookhaven looks to upgrade outdated phone system, reduce town costs

Brookhaven Town Hall

Brookhaven Town Hall (Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis)

Brookhaven officials are considering installing an Internet-based phone system at Town Hall and other offices in a move they say would save money and improve the town's communication system.

The system, if approved on Tuesday by the town board, would cost about $1.6 million over 13 years, for an estimated savings of about $130,000 per year, according to officials from Bowne Management Systems of Mineola and Core BTS, a national information technology company with offices in Garden City and Hauppauge.

The companies jointly proposed building the new network, which would replace most of the current phone system, provided by Verizon.


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Representatives of Bowne and Core BTS said during a presentation to the town board during a work session Thursday that their system would be capable of receiving as many as 192 calls per minute during emergencies.

The town currently uses a "basic, aging phone system" that is capable of handling about 42 calls per minute, they said. The new system would be installed by early next year.

The Internet phone system would be able to continue operating in the town highway and parks departments if Town Hall loses power, said Matt Pomara, Core BTS regional vice president. Those departments lose phone service if the Town Hall system shuts down, he said.

Brookhaven Chief of Operations Ed Morris said the new phones would not be installed at some offices, such as the municipal landfill and the animal shelter, both in Brookhaven hamlet.

Verizon did not respond to the town's invitation to submit a proposal for an upgraded phone system, a town spokesman said. A Verizon spokesman declined to comment Thursday.

Core BTS' clients include the South Country, Patchogue-Medford, Mineola and Islip school districts, the Village of Rockville Centre and Westchester County, Pomara said.

In addition to replacing its phone system, the town has eliminated 200 phone lines because of staff cuts, town officials said. The town uses about 800 phone lines, including those for fax machines and emergency alarms, Morris said.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said eliminating phone lines would help reduce town spending.

"The town had 200 more phones than it needed," he said. "We are trying to right-size government, and we are looking at all the functions that we're doing."

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Frank DeRubeis, Smithtown planning director, retires after nearly 30 years

Smithtown Town Planning Director Frank DeRubeis at his

Smithtown Town Planning Director Frank DeRubeis at his office in Smithtown on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

Frank DeRubeis, the respected and influential Smithtown planning chief with a reputation for being a thorn in the side of developers, has retired after nearly 30 years in that role.

DeRubeis, 68, left his office for the last time Friday, after overseeing projects such as commercial centers and housing developments that changed the landscape of the mostly residential town.

Assistant town planning director David Flynn, 58, is expected to succeed DeRubeis.


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DeRubeis, who joined the town as a planner in 1973 and became planning director 12 years later, has been credited with supporting affordable housing projects and restricting big box stores to designated areas away from residential neighborhoods. Supporters said he blocked overdevelopment by strictly enforcing the town zoning code.

"We got the reputation of the 'Land of No,' which was not true," DeRubeis of Blue Point said in an interview this week. "We were the land where we had high standards."

Vincent Trimarco, a Smithtown attorney who has represented developers, said he and DeRubeis frequently clashed over zoning issues. But he said DeRubeis often helped developers obtain zoning changes to spur economic revitalization.

"I can never say that he had some other motive other than his true belief that either this was bad or this was good for the town," Trimarco said. "I'm going to miss some of the fights that we had -- not all of them. He beat me up a couple of times."

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said DeRubeis encouraged developers to build subsidized housing for low-income seniors. Vecchio called DeRubeis "a thorough professional [who] will be sorely missed."

To some critics, DeRubeis' policies stymied growth. Vision Long Island, a smart-growth advocacy group, gave Smithtown a "dumb growth" award in 2006.

Eric Alexander, the group's executive director, said DeRubeis was "open to new ideas," but reluctant to approve large-scale redevelopment and infrastructure improvements.

"Smithtown is not that aggressive," Alexander said.

Supporters said DeRubeis helped transform the town. Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce president Mark Mancini said DeRubeis persuaded businesses on Smithtown's Main Street to move parking lots behind stores.

"It was a big undertaking just to get that done," Mancini said. "All those restaurants you see on the north side have benefited from that."

DeRubeis, a photography buff who collects antique cameras, said he plans to take classes at Stony Brook University and travel with his wife, Michele. He said he was most proud of his role in creating a park in downtown Smithtown honoring the town's 54 victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. The park, which includes a waterfall and relics from the World Trade Center, was supported by local residents and businesses.

"It was really like the community came together on that particular project," he said. "I'll take that one to the grave. It was really that nice.

Man with a plan

Highlights of Frank DeRubeis' tenure as Smithtown planning director:

-- Redevelopment of former Commack Arena site.

-- Senior housing developments, such as Siena Village on Bishops Road.

-- Smithtown 9/11 Park.

-- The Galleria, a mix of apartments, single-family homes, retail and offices at former sand mine on Terry Road and Route 347 in Smithtown hamlet.

-- "Box stores" steered to designated area on Crooked Hill Road near the Long Island Expressway in Commack.

-- Parking on Main Street in Smithtown relocated behind stores.

"

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