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Democrats hold up funding for Smithtown dredging project

Suffolk Legis. Rob Calarco, right, is seen with

Suffolk Legis. Rob Calarco, right, is seen with Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory at a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature in Smithtown on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

Democrats on the Suffolk County Legislature have delayed a vote on a Smithtown dredging project, after complaining that Republicans had blocked spending in their districts.

Lawmakers in a 10-8 vote Tuesday tabled for at least a month the request for an additional $550,000 for the work in the Nissequogue Tributary Headwaters.

Legis. Al Krupski (D-Copiague) said the money to pay for the work would come out of funding for a proposal to build a dining hall at Peconic Dunes, a North Fork camp.

Republicans have raised concerns about the cost of the project, which they said could total more than $1 million.

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) complained that Democrats are “constantly assailed . . . when a project in other districts comes up for funding, particularly from the legislators from Smithtown.”

Calarco said he was “just asking for some level of consistency from people around this horseshoe,” a reference to the seating at the county Legislature in Hauppauge.

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), Republican caucus leader, said Democrats “are taking the position that if we don’t support their unnecessary overspending, they will not support even environmental projects.”

The dredging project is in the district of Legis. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset). The other legislator for Smithtown is Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Kennedy said a state grant would reimburse the county for most of the cost of the dredging project, which is expected to cost $1.4 million. She said the dredging would help alleviate flooding of basements in homes near the river. Calarco said the state grant would not cover the additional $550,000 in costs.

Kennedy said she didn’t oppose the replacement project for the Peconic Dunes dining hall, but said costs should be brought down.

Lawmakers on Tuesday approved borrowing of $125,000 for planning for the dining hall project, although five of the six Republicans voted against it. Republican Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip) voted for it.

Republicans picked up a seat in this year’s election and will have enough votes starting Jan. 1 to block county borrowing, giving them new leverage. Approval of borrowing requires a two-thirds supermajority. Currently, there are six Republicans in the 18-member Legislature.

Peconic Dunes is run by Cornell Cooperative Extension and owned by Suffolk County. Its dining hall has been condemned and roped off for the past five years. Campers are served in a tent.

In other action, the Legislature approved a bill to direct restaurants to put a general food-allergy warning on menus and create a voluntary training program for restaurants on how to deal with food allergies.

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