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Saturday
Jun292019

Supervisor Wehrheim Announces Opening Of EV Charging Station Free To Residents

The Town of Smithtown celebrated the purchase of two 100% Electric Vehicles and the Grand Opening Ceremony of its Electric Vehicle Charging Station on Thursday, June 27 at Town Hall. Supervisor Ed Wehrheim was joined by local & County elected leaders, Suffolk County Energy Director Lisa Broughton, Smithtown’s Environmental Director Russ Barnett and the department of Environment and Waterways team.

“I’m pleased to announce that Electric Vehicle Drivers will be able to charge their cars for free for the next two years… This is yet another great stride for Smithtown, as we continue to pave the way for new clean energy initiatives that protect our environment for future generations to come.” - Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, Town of Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown will be offering the public free use of the downtown charging station for the next two years. The Level 2 charging station and the purchase of two new Chevrolet Bolts are the result of a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Clean Energy Communities Grant with support from the NYSDEC Zero Emissions Vehicle Rebate Program. 

“This Electric Vehicle charging station, available for free to the public, and these two 100% Electric Vehicles are just the latest green energy project completed by the town… We have planned a number of future projects, including the installation of free public access EV charging stations in all three LIRR commuter lots. And a solar farm above the closed municipal landfill in Kings Park to provide most if not all power needs of the town government for years to come!” - Russ Barnett, Environmental Protection Director

In addition to a number of future clean energy projects, the town has begun to design and install a 72KW solar electric system for the Landing Avenue Country Club. This system is funded, will be installed and operational within a year. 

Previously completed projects include the 50 KW solar electric system and a 10KW Wind Generator at the Town Recycling Center on Old Northport Rd in Kings Park. Smithtown was one of the first town’s in the Nation replace all street lights to low energy usage, high efficiency LED lights. The Town was also one of the first in the Country to replace it’s waste collection fleet with 100% CNG fueled trucks. 

About the Charging Station: 

ChargePoint offers the world’s largest network of electric vehicle charging locations, the most comprehensive charging station map in the US and comes equipped with a State-of-the-art software package. For more information visit: https://www.chargepoint.com/  

 

Monday
Jun102019

Memories Of Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio

Memories of Patrick Vecchio

By Jerry Cimisi

Patrick VecchioPatrick Vecchio was the supervisor of Smithtown for forty years; no supervisor in the history of New York State has ever served any municipality in that position that long. He was defeated in a Republican primary in September 2017 by the councilman who would become his successor, Ed Wherheim. Vecchio passed away at the age of 88, this past April.

Vecchio’s prior police and security work apparently inclined the Democratic party of Smithtown, where he had been living for ten years, to approach him about running for supervisor in 1977. In an interview with Gary Jacobs on the Public Access show Long Island Back Story in early 2017, Vecchio said after working with people in the political arena when he was in the New York City Police Department, he thought he’d take a shot at it, “Not knowing what a supervisor is or what a supervisor does…not knowing what this job entails.”

Vecchio won that 1977 election by only 67 votes, defeating incumbent, Republican Charles Cacciabaudo. It was the first time a Democrat had been elected to the town board in 16 years. Forty years later Vecchio would be on the wrong side of a close election; first returns showed he lost his party’s primary by 40 votes. A recount doubled that figure (83 votes, precisely), but certainly still a close contest.

Vecchio related he had sought “to lead by example. If I ask my secretary to bring me a pen, she brings me one pen.” The “example” apparently being that one uses just enough for a task, and no more. “I have strived to keep taxes on the town’s side stable. The majority of resident’s taxes come from the schools; in Smithtown you’re paying only $732 for town services. Our taxes have actually gone down in 2017 and we have a Triple A bond rating.

Smithtown Town Board named Town Hall Patrick R Vecchio Building 2016When asked where he sees Smithtown going in the future, he replied, “Slow and steady growth, and not overburdened with taxes.”

At this point Vecchio was certainly planning to run again for supervisor. Queried as to “What drives you to keep running?” the supervisor replied, “Belief in public service. As long as I’m able I’ll continue.”

After decades as a successful office holder, he was asked if he considered himself a politician. Vecchio responded with “I would say yes, in the sense that someone once defined it as politics is the art of government.”

But he added his perspective on governing: “The less politics is in government, the better.”

The township of Smithtown, which also comprises Commack and St. James, had a population of 116,668 in the 1980 census, two years after Vecchio took office. Thirty years later, the 2010 census showed only slightest increase, to 117,801. It is a predominantly white community, with the three biggest ethnic groups being Italian (35%), Irish (26 %) and German (18.7%). While there has been building and development growth, like many other areas on Long Island, there indeed has been a “slow and steady” aspect to Smithtown under Patrick Vecchio.

Journalist Karl Grossman, who founded the Press Club of Long Island and was its first president, remarked that Vecchio’s focus on not having the town shoulder any debt left downtown to languish, though he in general he saw Vecchio as “a good guy.”

Patrick Vecchio providing security for President and Mrs KennedyIn the 1950s, Vecchio worked for the NYPD’s Bureau of Special Services, and performed security detail for international leaders, such as Charles De Gaulle and Pope Paul VI, as well as Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower. Vecchio would remember being introduced to Eisenhower in a Waldorf Astoria elevator. It was a thrill for the young detective to shake the president’s hand. And there’s a photo of thirty year old Vecchio walking along a car from which Senator John Kennedy and wife Jackie wave to the crowd during the presidential campaign of 1960.

Grossman added that Vecchio had worked closely with the security attachment for New York Mayor John Lindsay. “You could see the admiration Vecchio had for Lindsay. I would say he lionized Lindsay; so I think of lot of Lindsay rubbed off on him, which was good, as I saw it.”

Grossman said, “At one point when Vecchio was supervisor, there were four out of five Democrats on the board. Eventually, in ‘89, Vecchio wanted to run for Suffolk County supervisor, but Dominic Baranello, the Chairman of the Suffolk County Democratic Party, wanted Pat Halpin to run; that’s what caused Vecchio to switch to the Republicans.”

(Halpin was county executive from 1988-’91 and is currently the Chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority.)

Vecchio made a run for county executive in 1991, but lost his new party’s primary. He never made another run for any other office save Smithtown supervisor.

Brad Harris was a social studies teacher at Commack High School who was appointed by Vecchio to be Smithtown Town Historian in1978, following Vecchio’s first election victory. He soon served as the campaign manager for Democrat Tom Boyle, who was defeated in a bid for town council. The following year Harris ran for town council on the Democratic ticket, and won a close election by sixty votes.

“The election was so close that with the recounts, the decision was not determined until February,” Harris said. Harris would serve from 1980-1992 on the town council.

“I worked on the town board with Vecchio for twelve years,” said Harris. “He was feisty, a true fighter. At the same time, he had the ability of making enemies into friends.” Harris cited Vecchio’s combative relationship with Councilman Eugene Cannatore. “After four years there was a thawing out and they became friends.”

A lot of history in the room. Supervisor Vecchio, lifelong resident of St. James 103 year old Marie Sturm and Town Historian Brad Harris. Photo by Kathy AlbrechtWhen describing how he viewed Patrick Vecchio’s legacy in Smithtown, Harris said, “He made town government more open and responsive to people than previous supervisors. When positions in the town became available, if there was not a civil service requirement, it’s up to the supervisor to fill the position. Vecchio believed the position should be filled based on merit, not whom the party recommended.”

Harris added, “Pat Vecchio was always tight with a buck; so tight it was said he squeaked. That was how he thought he had to manage the people’s money. When any department presented him with a request to raise its budget, they’d better have a good reason.”

Asked if Democrats were surprised at Vecchio’s switch from their party to become a Republican, Harris said, “No, they were surprised he’d been a Democrat in the first place.”

Harris added, however, in his perspective, party affiliation seemed “just a matter of labels. At one time there were three Democrats on the board out of five seats, then four out of five, but it didn’t seem to make any difference to me in day to day politics.”

On a very personal level, Harris recounted how “Vecchio accommodated me. He changed hours of the town board meetings in the afternoon so I could teach a full schedule at the high school, then I’d race from Commack to Smithtown and be just in time for the two o’clock meeting.”

Harris saw Vecchio’s departure from his long-held supervisor’s position as “a lot to do with age. At the end he could barely make it to the podium sometimes. So there was the sense in some people’s eyes that he’d become too old for the job. Younger men come up through the system. Ed Wehrheim [Smithtown’s current supervisor] had been head of the Parks Department, and had worked hand in glove with Vecchio; they’d been the best of friends. But when Ed threw his hat in the ring to challenge Vecchio in his own party, that ended that.”

photo submitted by Tony Giordano -Citi Field dugout, according to Tony,” Patrick Vecchio was not happy to have to go to the dugout in the rain” Rich Schaffer, Ed Maher , Tony Giordano and Arizona D’Back player Bronson Arroyo Pat Biancaniello, editor of Smithtownmatters.com, who served on the town council from 2006-2009 as a Democrat, remarked, “My relationship with Pat Vecchio was complicated.”

A former President of the League of Women Voters of Smithtown, and a regular observer of town board meetings, said she met Vecchio in the late ‘90s. “We didn’t agree on a lot of things, but I admired and respected him. And cared about him; we were friends.”

Then in 2009 Biancaniello challenged Vecchio for the supervisor’s position. “I could’ve stayed on the board—where I was the only Democrat and only woman—but I felt that those running the town were not interested in what I considered important.”

At the time Biancaniello related to Newsday the town had a $49 million surplus that some portion of which should be applied to infrastructure maintenance and repair. 

She went on, “When I first ran for town council, I said we needed an update on Smithtown’s Master Plan.” Apparently that plan was still not formed by the time Biancaniello ran, unsuccessfully, for supervisor.

“It took a long time. It was completed around 2011-’12, presented to the public, then put on the back burner. Now Ed Wehrheim is handing it over to an outside firm to come up with a new one. Not having a Master Plan enabled Vecchio to maintain the status quo.”

“I have to say Pat Vecchio was incredible, in that he knew your name the second time you met him, asked about your family. He seemed to retain everything. Again, I have to say I liked him.”

She added a further insight into Vecchio’s personality. “On the town’s 350th anniversary, Brad Harris asked me to write a speech that Vecchio would give.” But apparently the supervisor had to make the words more his own. “He told me later, ‘I made some grammatical changes to it.’”

Echoing Town Historian Harris, Biancaniello said, “Pat Vecchio ruled with a tight fist. He was on top of everything.”

Patrick R Vecchio learns Ed Wehrheim won the primaryIn describing Vecchio’s last election, his defeat in the 2017 Republican primary, Biancaniello said, “I was with Pat when he got the news he lost. Politics was no surprise to him; he knew it more than anyone. Pat was responsible for Ed Wehrheim’s rise in the town board; Pat held that council seat for Ed until he retired from the Parks Department. Then there was a big rift between them. You know, Pat Vecchio’s narrative was always it’s his way or no way.”

And Biancaniello put Vecchio’s loss down to, simply, politics. “Pat was a very independent guy. Bill Ellis, the Smithtown Republican Chairman, never got along with Pat, though Pat Vecchio always had the support of those who got out the votes. John Zollo was set to challenge Pat; Zollo dropped out and Wehrheim replaced him. The thing is, Ellis had all the proxies—in other words, people gave him their vote to vote how he wanted. So that’s how Wehrheim beat Vecchio.”

Perhaps the ultimate question is: Did Supervisor Patrick Vecchio leave Smithtown a better place. Biancaniello said, “Smithtown was well served by Pat Vecchio. Yes, I think he made it better. The way you look at is the desirability of the town? Would you like to live here? It’s safe, we have parks, beaches, and good fiscal management.”

 

Wednesday
May222019

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - We Need To Know Where Sewered Outflow Will Go

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

There’s no Valley Stream any longer in Valley Stream. “It’s gone—Valley Stream is now a stream bed,” Professor Sarah J. Meyland, an expert on water on Long Island, was saying last week. The drying up of the stream that gave Valley Stream its name—and the diminishment of “almost all” the streams in Nassau County—is the result of Nassau sending the wastewater from its sewer plants out into the ocean and bays, the Long Island Sound and other estuaries.

And this could be what will happen in Suffolk County, she warns.

Professor Meyland “is a water specialist with a background in groundwater protection, water resources management and environmental law” as states her biography at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury where she is associate professor in the Department of Environmental Technology and Sustainability. She was co-executive director of the New York State Legislative Commission on Water Resource Needs of Long Island. She also was watershed director for the Suffolk County Water Authority. 

Her numerous degrees include a master’s of science in water resource management from Texas A&M University; bachelor’s degrees in both marine biology and geological oceanography from Humboldt State University; and a law degree from St. John’s University School of Law. She has developed a number of environmental laws for New York State and the federal government.

Streams on Long Island “are fed by groundwater flow. In Nassau, when the water table dropped, water could no longer reach streams,” Ms. Meyland explains. In the 1960s and 70s, with the funding from the Clean Water Act, “wholesale sewering was happening in Nassau County and the county would not allow any land-based wastewater discharge. Every sewer plant in Nassau sends outfall into the Atlantic, bays, the Long Island Sound and other estuaries. And this led to a lowering of the water table.”

In Nassau, “they knew that was going to be the outcome in advance. Some 90 percent of the county is sewered with the wastewater not returned to the aquifer system. The engineers knew what the impacts of this would be to the underground water table, but the public didn’t know and the public wasn’t consulted.”

Will this be the fate of Suffolk County where there has also been an emphasis—increased in recent years—on sending outfall of wastewater from Suffolk’s sewage systems into the Atlantic, bays, the Sound and other estuaries?

In Suffolk in the 1970s, the Southwest Sewer District was constructed with a sewage plant at Bergen Point in West Babylon built to discharge 30 million gallons a day of wastewater into the Atlantic. The administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has been pushing to pipe more wastewater to the plant and out to sea including from a massive project called the “Ronkonkoma Hub”—although Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine had called instead for full treatment of that wastewater and its recharge back into the ground to replenish the underground water table.

Some 30 percent of Suffolk is covered by sewers—the remaining 70% utilizes cesspools. More than half of the sewer systems utilize recharge back into the ground—but these are small private plants, mainly built for housing developments.

Larger sewer plants in Suffolk utilize outfall. 

On the western portion of Long Island, outfall of wastewater was how Brooklyn lost the use of its groundwater as a potable water source. Long Island is designated a “sole source aquifer” region—its underground water table, the aquifers below, its water source.

The loss for Brooklyn of use of groundwater for potable water was caused by outfall and consequent entry into the lowered water table of saltwater, explains Professor Meyland. The loss in Queens came because of “over-pumping.” With the lowering of the water table, saltwater intrusion occurred destroying the aquifer as a potable water source. Because of the “massive damage to the aquifer system in Brooklyn and Queens,” they needed to receive potable water from the reservoir system constructed upstate a century and more ago with conduits bringing potable water down to New York City.

How will central and eastern Long Island get potable water if the aquifer system on which they depend is destroyed as a source of potable water? “The upstate reservoirs are at capacity,” said Professor Meyland. “New York City is only one drought away from being in a serious crisis. And the city is expecting one million additional people by the end of the century.” There’s no water available from this upstate system for Nassau and Suffolk, she said.

Professor Meyland, a Huntington resident, says that if serious damage is done to the underground supply of potable water for Nassau and Suffolk: “We’re out of luck.”

 

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.                                       

Monday
May202019

St. James Celebrates Designation As Cultural Arts District

Community Gathers to Mark the Celebration of an Official Cultural Arts District Along Lake Avenue in St. James

“There has always been something about St. James that has fostered community pride. It was and is a place where people have come together in the past and still do… it is a place where, no matter who we are or what we think, we always share one commonality – we love our hometown.” - Natalie Weinstein

Ribbon cutting celebrating Cultural Arts District in St. James (photo by Nancy Vallarella)On Sunday May 19th, Celebrate St James hosted State, County and Town Officials as well as local residents at the Lake Avenue Gazebo to commemorateits designation as an official Cultural Arts District.  The ceremony included a custom artwork unveiling by local artist Arline Goldstein and a ceremonial toast and ribbon cutting. The ceremony was led by Natalie Weinstein of Celebrate St. James.

“An artist looks at life around him or her and sees something that most of us can not… They see colors on a blank canvas, they see the finished product looking at a blueprint. They hear a song in their heads reading sheet music… They see potential. They see an extraordinary future. As we cut this ribbon today, I ask that you take a moment, find your inner artist… And Imagine the Potential.” - Supervisor Ed Wehrheim

Celebrating the arts was NYS Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (seated) The Town Board voted unanimously on April 25th to declare an overlay cultural arts district along Lake Avenue in St James. The district encompasses Lake Avenue from Route 25A (at the St. James Firehouse) on the north end down to Woodlawn Avenue on the south end. The next steps will involve the appointing of a Cultural Arts committee, to work within the community to foster and attract local artists, musicians, cultural and entertainment businesses.

The Cultural Arts District is intended to highlight the arts, cultureDance Magic Ballroom Dancers (655 Middle Country Rd, St James) Lexi Andrea, Marianne López, Yelena Mirsakova, Tricia Toback, Gregg Toback, Saket Kashettiwar, Steve Bennett, James Tase, Carolyn Brooks and entertainment for residents and visitors alike, creating much needed attractions, tourism and foot traffic along the St James small business district.  

Wednesday
May152019

Suffolk Closeup - Jerry Nadler Great Intellect And Presidential Nemesis

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman 

Having been a journalist for 57 years now, I’ve gotten to know many public officials. The smartest person in politics I’ve ever known—and I’ve told this to folks for years—is U.S. Representative Jerry Nadler. In Jerry Nadler, chairman of the key panel now investigating President Donald Trump and his administration, Mr. Trump has a quite an adversary. 

“Jerry Nadler Was Born to Battle Trump,” was the headline of an article this month in The New Republic. It concluded speaking about his “mandate to counter the momentum toward autocracy and to shore up democratic institutions and practices under siege.”

“We’re now in a Constitutional crisis,” Mr. Nadler declared last week, accusing Mr. Trump with his claims of executive privilege of an attack on the “essence of our democracy.”

Mr. Nadler has been in Congress since 1992. He represents much of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. From 1977 to 1992 he was a member of the New York State Assembly. 

I got to know Congressman Nadler in the 1990s when I authored books, wrote articles and presented TV documentaries on the use of nuclear power in space by the U.S. and also the Soviet Union and then Russia. A decade earlier, in 1986, I broke the story in The Nation after Challenger space shuttle disaster about how its next mission was to loft a space probe containing plutonium fuel. If the Challenger exploded on that launch, in May 1986, and the plutonium was dispersed, far more people than the seven brave astronauts who died in the January 1986 catastrophe would have perished.

This was not a “sky-is-falling” issue, I found. There had been accidents and dispersal of radioactive material in accidents in both the U.S. and the Soviet/Russian space nuclear programs. 

(In addition to investigating the issue in the U.S., I received an invitation from Dr. Alexey Yablokov, environmental advisor to Russian presidents and leading opponent of Soviet/Russian space nuclear missions, to go to Russia to speak at conferences and at the Russian Academy of Sciences. I made repeated visits.)

The biggest nuclear shot ever—NASA’s Cassini’s mission to Saturn—was scheduled for 1997. Some 72.3 pounds of deadly plutonium, more than ever used on a space mission, was involved. 

There was the threat of a launch pad explosion—one in 100 rockets blow up or otherwise malfunction disastrously on launch. And also, there was the threat of a repeat of an earlier space nuclear disaster—the spacecraft not achieving orbit and falling back to Earth, disintegrating in the atmosphere and spreading plutonium. Further, on the Cassini shot, a “slingshot maneuver” involving the Earth was planned. The rocket was to be sent hurtling back at the Earth, coming in at 42,300 miles an hour just a few hundred miles overhead, to use the Earth’s gravity to increase its velocity so it could reach its final destination of Saturn.

If there was what NASA called an “inadvertent reentry” into the Earth’s atmosphere on the “slingshot maneuver” causing disintegration and release of the plutonium, the NASA Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission estimated that “5 billion…of the world population…could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure.”

Also, a solar power alternative—eliminating the use of plutonium to generate a modest 745 watts for onboard electricity for instruments—was available.

It was then that I got to know Jerry Nadler. His brother, Eric, is a good friend. Eric is an investigative reporter who has written and appeared on TV programs for Frontline on PBS, Globalvision, and written articles in Rolling Stone, Mother Jones and other investigative media.

I sent Congressman Nadler a book I had just written on the space nuclear issue focusing on Cassini, The Wrong Stuff, along with one of my TV documentaries, Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens. 

We met and discussed the situation. Mr. Nadler has a brilliant mind. He fully understood the enormous perils of using nuclear power overhead. Further, when the subjects turned to politics and government, his knowledge was encyclopedic. He organized a group of members of Congress calling for a cancellation of the Cassini mission. He and the other members held a press conference on the steps of the Capital in Washington detailing the lethal dangers of the mission. NASA, however, refused to cancel it. Fortunately, this time there was no disaster in this game of nuclear Russian Roulette in space. Subsequently, underlining how plutonium power on the Cassini mission was unnecessary, in 2016 NASA’s Juno space probe arrived at Jupiter—with solar power substituting for plutonium. (Still, NASA is now planning more space nuclear shots.)

Stated the New Republic piece: “Nadler might seem like an unusual political leader to take on the role of presidential nemesis; he is thoughtful, thorough, and cerebral, a man of ideas—the opposite of Trump.”


Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.