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West Shore Road project sparks heated debate in Nassau

The debate turned loud and personal this week when Nassau legislative Democrats voted down borrowing to pay for the final phase of reconstructing West Shore Road, a vital North Shore artery that connects Oyster Bay and Mill Neck to Bayville.

Democrats refuse to provide the 12-member Republican majority with the 13 votes needed to authorize borrowing unless Republicans agree to create the position of an independent inspector general to oversee county contracts.

Republicans say the county’s newly hired investigations commissioner provides enough oversight.

The stand-off has continued for months, though Democrats have allowed some borrowing — to pay for police bulletproof vests, for example. But on Monday they would not vote to complete reconstruction of West Shore Road, which partially collapsed into Oyster Bay harbor during Superstorm Sandy.

Legis. Donald MacKenzie (R-Oyster Bay) noted during the discussion that Democratic legislators Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) and Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) had fought for the project when the road ran through their districts. Now, after redistricting put the road in MacKenzie’s district, they no longer support its reconstruction, he said.

“If this road was to experience another storm, it would leave the villages of Bayville and Centre Island and potentially residents of Mill Neck without any access to leave their homes,” MacKenzie said. “I think people on both sides would consider the safety aspect of leaving citizens there without any access to their homes.”

But DeRiggi-Whitton said fixing the third phase of West Shore Road was not as critical as repairing the Bayville Bridge, which has been stuck open or closed for as long as four hours.

“The businesses of Bayville have lost so much money because the bridge has been stuck open,” she said. “My request is we address what the business owners and constituents of Bayville are really concerned about, fixing the bridge.”

She said to MacKenzie, “You know we had to call you to tell you the bridge was broken.”

“Who is we?” MacKenzie shot back. “Your boyfriend who owns a marina next to the bridge? That’s the only reason you bring it up. It’s ridiculous.”

Legis. Carrie Solages (D-Elmont) shouted, “That’s inappropriate.”

MacKenzie responded, “It’s inappropriate to say citizens of Bayville are outraged over the bridge when it’s your boyfriend texting people about it.”

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) shut down the uproar. “Enough!” she declared.

Later, DeRiggi Whitton said, “It was the most ridiculous thing. All we need is a brawl.”

She said she had been caught in the four-hour traffic jam when the bridge got stuck open and a car rear-ended another. “Richard texted (MacKenzie) and he didn’t know about it before that. He’s doing a favor by letting him know about it.”

DeRiggi-Whitton was referring to the man she is dating, Richard Valicenti, owner of Bridge Marine, which is located next to the Bayville Bridge.

Valicenti said in an interview Friday that the county-owned bridge has had problems since it was submerged during Sandy; it gets stuck open or closed for hours, hindering boat or car traffic and hurting all Bayville businesses.

He said had texted DeRiggi-Whitton about bridge problems when it was in her district. “I met Delia over the Bayville Bridge quite honestly.”

Now, Valicenti said, he texts MacKenzie. “I used to ask her about it. Now it’s him. But I’m not going to date him. That’s not my intention.”

The bridge, he said, “needs to be taken care of once and for all.”

MacKenzie declined comment, except to say through a spokesman that DeRiggi-Whitton should support West Shore Road repairs without using the bridge as a reason to vote no. A public works official had testified at Monday’s meeting that the road work needs to be completed before the bridge can be renovated.

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