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Miller Place sump stirs concern for kids' safety

Carol Wendell next to a sump at Sylvan

Carol Wendell next to a sump at Sylvan Avenue Park in Miller Place on June 4, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Judy Cartwright

Next to a town park in Miller Place is a sump -- the dignified term is recharge basin -- its fence torn open to permit entry.

From the vantage point of an adjacent handball court, Carol Wendell has seen children climb through the gap and disappear into the depths.

She's concerned about the safety of children and teens -- some of them ride skateboards down the slope of what she characterized as "a deep sump" -- as well as about whatever activities are afoot. She described occasions when cars pull up to the sump and the scent of marijuana is apparent.

"I play on the handball court and have seen 8- and 10-year-old children going down into it," she told us. "Parents have no idea what's going on."

The fence was ripped apart about four years ago, she said. The Town of Brookhaven chained it back together and secured the chain with a lock. But the solution was short term; at some point, the chain and lock were cut off.

Wendell called the town's Parks Department because the sump is next to Sylvan Avenue Park. She was referred to Suffolk County which, in turn, said the sump isn't one of theirs. When the gap wasn't repaired, Wendell contacted Newsday last month.

Her experience illustrates the challenge involved in reporting such a problem: The path to the best telephone number can take a number of turns.

The town's Highway Department is responsible for maintenance of town sumps, even those that appear to be within park boundaries. Within days of our call to the department, temporary fencing was in place. When we met Wendell two days later, a Wednesday, Highway Department foremen Tom Webb and John Gerig were replacing that with a section of new chain-link.

But two days later, when Wendell returned to the handball court, the fence was once again in tatters. "It was totally destroyed," she said of Webb and Gerig's work.

The town's Public Safety Department has been asked to provide "additional code enforcement" in the area and the Suffolk County Police Department also has been notified, Highway Department spokesman Frank Petrignani said early this month. The department confirmed that the Sixth Precinct "is aware of the activity at Sylvan Avenue Park and has taken action to address the issue."

By last week, police had made three drug-related arrests at the sump since April. The department said the Sixth Precinct "is continuing to make regular checks at the location." And the fence got yet another round of repairs.

We had hoped to report that the efforts by the town, the police and, not least, Wendell had led to a safe and satisfying conclusion. But the new chainlink section was again torn free, leaving a 4-foot-wide opening into the sump.

Stay tuned.

It had been more than five years since we last spoke with Herbert Meisen. In 2009 he told us about the need for a sidewalk along a busy road near the Commack Public Library.

Huntington Town told us at the time that a sidewalk would be installed to replace the skinny strip of asphalt on the north side of Hauppauge Road. The work was part of a traffic safety improvement plan for the area, one that was described as "shovel ready."

When Meisen called recently, he said the sidewalk still hadn't arrived.

The town reports that the work was postponed but is now back on schedule, along with scaled-down traffic safety improvements. Construction is expected to begin this year.

The initial $1.7-million project -- it also called for transforming the nearby intersection of Daly, Hauppauge and Larkfield roads into a traffic roundabout -- didn't go as planned because the town couldn't secure an $850,000 federal economic stimulus grant.

"As a result, the town has had to scale down the project to reduce costs while still achieving the goals of calming traffic on Daly Road and improving pedestrian safety on Hauppauge Road," town spokesman A.J. Carter said.

Instead of a roundabout, three "rest in red" traffic signals will be installed on Daly Road at the intersections with Blacksmith Lane, Wicks Road and Willoughby Path. Those lights will be programmed to turn green when traffic approaches at the posted speed limit; for speeders, the lights will remain red until drivers reach a complete stop. Eight such signals are in use throughout the town, Carter said.

Hauppauge Road will get right-turn lanes for east- and westbound traffic, and pedestrian countdown signals will be installed on Daly Road at Hauppauge and Larkfield roads.

Carter said the traffic signals and intersection improvements "will go out to bid early this summer and the sidewalk phase will follow a month or two later."

The asphalt path is used by pedestrians going to the library, the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center and the Gurwin Jewish Geriatric Center.

"My wife takes our grandchildren to the Y all the time with a stroller and it's very tricky," Meisen said. "It [the sidewalk] will be very beneficial to her and everyone else using that road."


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