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Sophia Chang

I cover the town of Islip as well as the villages of Brightwaters and Islandia. Whether it's municipal issues, health topics, or bizarre news, I want to help readers understand what's going on in their world from local to global. Please contact me and my colleague Candice Ruud with any relevant article ideas or news tips — we’re always eager for a good story.

Careful demolition of La Grange Inn begins in West Islip

Demolition begins on the former site of the

(Credit: James Carbone)

The historic La Grange Inn in West Islip is in the first phase of a plan to carefully move the centuries-old building for a new drugstore.

Bulldozers have started tearing down the inn’s newer catering wings and rear addition, part of a compromise between drugstore company CVS and fans of the inn to restore the building and move it to a corner of its lot.

CVS filed an application in 2012...

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'Whole lot of fill' needed to repair Bay Shore sinkhole, says contractor

Emergency personnel respond to the scene where tow
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Emergency personnel respond to the scene where tow truck and other cars collapsed in sinkholea inside the parking lot of the AutoZone at the shopping Center on Middle Country Road near Mark Tree Road Thursday evening in Centereach on Aug. 14, 2014.(Credit: James Carbone)

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Contractors Thursday worked on building a wooden barricade around a large sinkhole in a Bay Shore parking lot -- one of many sinkholes that developed on Long Island in the wake of a historic rainfall that hit the towns of Islip, Babylon and Brookhaven especially hard.

"We're building a wall to keep people away," said contractor Gary Micheletti, while onlookers snapped photos of the sinkhole.

The hole was at least 10 feet deep and larger than a sport utility vehicle. Micheletti said it would take "a whole lot of fill" to fully repair the sinkhole.


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Christina Hinderer was working at the Tropical Smoothie Cafe Wednesday morning around 9 a.m. when she saw the parking lot depression form after a car drove over the spot.

"It started dipping down, and we blocked it off," she said.

The cafe had to close about two hours later after management decided the sinkhole could become dangerous.

The cafe lost about a couple thousand dollars in sales because of the closure, and business remained sluggish Thursday, said manager Samantha Scherger.

Hinderer said last year a small sinkhole about the size of a watermelon developed in the same spot.

"It was really small and the dirt was still there," she said. The center's landlord patched up the hole, and "they said this time they are going to fix it the right way."

Meanwhile, Brookhaven Town reported 22 sinkholes in various streets.

In Centereach, two parked cars became stuck in sinkholes Thursday and one was stuck Wednesday in a lot in front of AutoZone when the pavement gave way, according to an AutoZone employee.

A Crown Victoria and a medium-sized tow truck sunk into the blacktop of the parking lot around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the employee said. Both cars were towed out in the late afternoon.

Suffolk police Sixth Precinct officers were at the scene Thursday evening, securing the area where cars seemed to be susceptible to sinking.

Elsewhere in Brookhaven, town crews pumped out a half-million gallons of water from West Bartlett Road in Coram.

Flooding at the town-owned Pennysaver Amphitheater at Bald Hill in Farmingville caused the cancellation of a Friday night concert, "Party 105's Summer Madness." Promoters expect the venue to be cleaned up in time for Saturday's show, featuring Little Big Town, Eli Young Band and The Henningsens.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said the theater sustained electrical damage, and seats in the pit area at the foot of the stage were flooded.

"It was two to three feet high on the stage," he said, referring to water damage.

The town Thursday delivered American Red Cross flood kits to homes that were damaged by the storm. The kits include buckets, brooms, mops, scrub brushes, sponges, gloves, garbage bags, bleach and other cleanup material. The kits also will be available Friday free of charge at Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville.

Town officials still were assessing storm damage Thursday.

"We believe that the damage done to the town will cost several million dollars" for road repairs, unclogging storm drains and cleaning out sumps, Romaine said. "We suspect the damage to personal property is in the millions also. So this was an expensive storm."

With Candice Ruud

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MacArthur Airport to tout convenience in Nassau Coliseum advertisements

Long Island MacArthur Airport plans to start advertising at Nassau Coliseum in the hopes of convincing hockey fans and national television audiences that the Ronkonkoma airport is an easy alternative to flying out of Queens. Islip Town unanimously voted to spend up to $50,000 for the yearlong campaign, to launch in time for the 2014-2015 Islanders season. The campaign will include video spots on the rink's scoreboards and signage on kiosks. Aug. 11, 2014. (Newsday Staff)

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Long Island MacArthur Airport plans to start advertising at Nassau Coliseum in the hopes of convincing hockey fans and national television audiences that the Ronkonkoma airport is an easy alternative to those in New York City.

The Islip Town Board unanimously voted to allocate as much as $50,000 for the yearlong advertising campaign, to launch in time for the 2014-2015 New York Islanders season. The campaign is to include video spots on the rink's scoreboards and signage on kiosks.

The campaign also is part of local efforts to promote tourism on Long Island.

"This is in conjunction with the Long Island Visitors Bureau and the vineyards on the East End to market Long Island as a destination -- fly to New York City with MacArthur, but also fly to Long Island," Islip Supervisor Tom Croci said after the Aug. 5 vote.

The airport used to draw enough business travelers connected to the local defense industry that "there wasn't a reliance or a serious investment in the tourism aspect," he said.

Now that promoting tourism, not business, is the primary goal, "we might as well use all of our assets, and we might as well use it to help market our destinations," Croci said.

Airport Commissioner Bob Schaefer said MacArthur advertised in the Coliseum for part of last year's National Hockey League season. The Islanders pay the town $30,000 to place advertisements in the airport.

MacArthur also advertises in the new beer garden at Jones Beach and at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury.

The struggling airport has lost an estimated $5.6 million since 2010. Two regional airlines, PenAir and Allegiant Air, ended service at MacArthur this year.

Officials said the association with the Islanders will help their search for new airlines.

"In trying to appeal to airlines in different markets who are looking for a destination market for their travelers ... the connection with the NHL and a major sports team is helpful," Croci said.

Kristen Matejka, marketing director of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said MacArthur was a "huge asset" for the $5 billion local tourism industry.

"We look at any ways we can work with the airport to promote travel to Long Island. One of the ways we've done this over the past couple years is to develop an ad campaign directed to markets that have direct flights to Long Island," she said, citing recent campaigns in Baltimore and Boston.

Aviation consultant Michael Boyd, of the Evergreen, Colorado-based Boyd Group International, said the campaign was the right move for MacArthur's image as the easier alternative to New York City's airports. "The Nassau Coliseum, that's where you should be," he said. "It's a much easier way to go than driving to the city."

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Cell towers proposed for Bohemia Fire Department raise neighbors' concerns

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A proposal to build two cell towers on land owned by the Bohemia Fire Department has raised concerns among some neighbors.

The fire department has submitted an application to Islip's planning and development department to build the towers at its firehouse on Pearl Street, and behind the fire station on Eighth Street, said fire officials.

Lauren Barresi, whose parents live on the same block as the Pearl Street firehouse, said she was concerned about potential radiation emitted by the towers, and pointed out the two towers would be within a half mile of two schools. "At the rate the cellphone tower is going to be used, we're very concerned about the health risk," she said. "I had a little brother that passed away from cancer so we take this very seriously." Barresi and a group of other residents plan to submit a petition to ask Islip to deny the application.


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The fire department was approached a year ago by Highlander Consultants, an East Islip-based cellphone tower installation company, which offered to pay $100,000 for each of the two sites. The timing was fortuitous, said fire Commissioner Tom Riedel. "The benefits to the project are better radio communication which we're sorely lacking," he said.

The contract also includes new radio antenna equipment for the department as well as 40 percent of the revenue of what Highlander gets from cell service providers renting the towers. "Depending on how many cell carriers, that could be $12,000 to $16,000 per month for the fire district," Riedel said.

Fire district Commissioner Frank Nuzzo said, "We were looking at it to save money. It has nothing to do with offending anybody." The town is expected to make a decision on the department's application in two months.

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Two new members join the Brightwaters Village board

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The Brightwaters village board has two new faces.

Trustee John Lawlor resigned at the end of June, said village Mayor Joe McDermott, leaving an empty seat on the board along with McDermott's former trustee seat that he vacated when he was elected mayor in June.

When reached by phone, Lawlor declined to comment on why he resigned. He was elected to the board in June 2013.

McDermott appointed residents Christian Sullivan and Bernadette Whitwell to serve as trustees, and they were sworn in at Monday's village board meeting.

Sullivan is the campus minister at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens and has lived in the village for eight years, while Whitwell is a Brightwaters native and former college lacrosse coach at schools such as Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Both currently serve on the village's Parks Committee.

"I was looking for someone that was team-oriented," McDermott said of the appointed trustees.

At Monday's meeting, the board also voted to hire a new accounting firm to handle the village's audits. The previous firm, Sheehan & Co. of Brightwaters, charged the village $34,000 last year to prepare financial reports and the audit, McDermott said.

After a request for proposals, the board awarded the new audit contract to Skinnon & Farber of Islandia, who will charge the village $12,000 annually. The village clerk will prepare the financial reports and the new firm will handle audits, according to McDermott.

Donna Periconi, the president of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Bay Shore, criticized the decision at the meeting, saying that the lowest bidder was not always the right choice.

After the meeting, McDermott said the choice was a simple financial decision. "Three firms got back to us, and we took the lowest bid," he said. "It's a good policy anyway -- any municipality should switch financial firms every three to five years."

McDermott hopes to reinstitute the village board's monthly work sessions. The next one is scheduled for Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. at Village Hall.

He said he felt hopeful about the new direction of the village board, after the fractious meetings of the previous board under longtime Mayor Joseph McNulty.

"It's a team approach," he said. "We might have differences of opinion, but we all have the same goal -- to show people the workings of the village. Let people in. Let people be part of the process of the village."

"Change is hard and people are afraid of change," he added. "But I think people are starting to see that change can be good."

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Islip Town's Foreign Trade Zone to be the site of three new buildings

A new set of buildings is coming to Islip's Foreign Trade Zone.

Rechler Equity Partners of Plainview plans to build three structures totaling 119,000 square feet on vacant parcels in the international trade district near Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

"With 95 percent occupancy, we are actively seeking the right tenants for our three undeveloped parcels in the Foreign Trade Zone, and Rechler Equity Partners' reach into the Long Island business community will help us to do that," Brad Hemingway, executive director of the Foreign Trade Zone, said in an emailed statement.


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"We have always liked working in the Town of Islip," said Mitchell Rechler, a managing partner at Rechler Equity Partners. "We had discussions with regards to the trade zone and decided it would be a good fit to work with them."

The new buildings will be on three parcels: a 54,000-square-foot building at 100 Trade Zone Dr., a 24,000-square-foot building at 101 Roebling Ct., and a 41,000-square-foot building at 2 Roebling Ct. Rechler said his firm has already built about 1 million square feet of commercial space in Islip Town.

The buildings will be built to suit, once tenants are signed. "We've already started marketing ourselves to bring tenants to the buildings," Rechler said.

Islip's Foreign Trade Zone was created in 1982. Tenants are eligible for benefits such as "deferral of duties and taxes paid on merchandise when entering U.S. Customs Territory; exportation or transfer of cargo without the payment of any taxes or duties; and a lower rate of tax when purchasing products manufactured abroad," according to the town.

Rechler said the company will pursue import-export businesses that would benefit from being located in the zone.

"We're reaching out to a number of foreign embassies and business associations relative to those in order to help attract tenants," he said. "That's where we're aiming on marketing."

Town officials say the new buildings will help the local economy. "We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Rechler Equity Partners, the largest owner and operator of commercial properties on Long Island, in developing three significant parcels located in Islip's Foreign Trade Zone," Town Supervisor Tom Croci said in a news release. "Rechler's vast knowledge and expertise in the industry will no doubt help to attract companies to the FTZ, which will, in turn create jobs locally, a top priority in this administration."

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MacArthur Airport's new anti-terror tool -- a yellow Lab named Unser -- now on the job

On July 29, 2014, at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced the deployment of the Suffolk County Police Department's first "Vapor Wake" explosive detection K-9, named Unser. Unser can detect an explosive's vapor wake even after a person has left the area and can follow the trail to the explosive source. (Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely)

The Suffolk County Police Department has acquired a sophisticated and state-of-the-art new tool in counterterrorism: the powerful nose of a yellow Labrador retriever named Unser.

The department announced yesterday that Unser, a 2-year-old pooch trained in "Vapor Wake" detection of bomb chemicals, is one of the newest recruits to the force and is assigned to patrol Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.

Unser has been training since puppyhood at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University in Alabama, where dogs are "scientifically bred, selected and developed to detect the scent trail an explosive leaves in the air. By their side is a handler educated in research-based techniques to provide a complete security system," according to the program's website.


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While police officials declined to specify what substances Unser can smell, Suffolk Chief of Patrol John Meehan said Unser's nose is more sensitive than any mechanical device and he can detect 10 odors, adding another component to security at the airport.

"Everyone at the airport and who comes to the airport should feel more comfortable and safe knowing that this K-9 officer is on patrol," said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at a news conference Tuesday at the Suffolk police special patrol facility in Ronkonkoma.

Unlike ordinary bomb-sniffing dogs, Unser can smell explosives on moving targets or people and can follow the odors back to the source, according to his handler, Officer Michael Canavaciol.

The Suffolk police department received a $60,000 grant from New York State Homeland Security and Emergency Services to buy Unser and train Canavaciol to work with him. The NYPD, Amtrak police, the U.S. Capitol Police and the Federal Protective Service also use "Vapor Wake" dogs trained at Auburn.

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