Will downtown road be named for Bissett or Behr?

04/24/2013 5:36 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Runners trek down the unnamed road in Riverhead that could soon share a name with either Heidi Behr or Jim Bissett.

The unnamed road that runs along the Peconic Riverfront in downtown Riverhead may soon have a name.

But which name?

One proposal calls for the section of road from Peconic Avenue to McDermott Avenue be named after Heidi Behr, the 23-year-old Riverhead woman who died in a May 2005 accident while she was volunteering with the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio mentioned the proposal to name the riverfront street after Ms. Behr during an interview with Bruce Tria on WRIV radio Wednesday morning, saying more details would be coming soon.

“She was a volunteer and she lost her life going to save somebody else’s,” she said on the air. “It’s something that needs to be done, sooner than later.”

But another proposal calls for naming it after Jim Bissett, the late co-founder of the Long Island Aquarium and the adjacent Hyatt Hotel in downtown Riverhead. Mr. Bissett died in December 2011 at the age of 48 in an apparent suicide. Mr. Bissett is often credited with helping to revive downtown Riverhead through the aquarium.

Supervisor Sean Walter said on Wednesday that the proposal to name the road after Ms. Behr will likely be discussed by the Town Board next week, but he added that the Business Improvement District Management Association and the Parking District advisory committee have already discussed naming something downtown for Mr. Bissett.

“That’s one of the things we have to look at,” Mr. Walter said. “We have to sort that out.”

Ray Pickersgill, the president of the BID and a member of the Parking District advisory committee, said both boards had voted several months ago in support of naming the road along the river “Jim Bissett Way.”

“Nobody had done more for this town than Jim Bissett,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “We’re the only Main Street in Suffolk County that has a name brand hotel on it, and it’s made a big difference. He brought the aquarium to Riverhead as well. I can’t even tell you how many other things he was involved in, but anytime I would go to Jimmy and ask him to get involved in something, he’d be right on it.”

Mr. Walter said they decided not to put the street naming discussing on Thursday’s work session agenda because there is a state Department of Transportation workshop on the subject of downtown sidewalks scheduled at 10 a.m., and that discussion may take a long time.

Mr. Walter said he didn’t know the specifics of the proposals.

“I haven’t even really been told what it is yet,” Mr. Walter said of the plan to name the street after Heidi Behr. “I remember at one point we were going to name the ambulance barn after her.”

Councilmen Jim Wooten and George Gabrielsen said they have no opposition to naming the riverfront drive after Ms. Behr. Mr. Wooten said he is also hoping to name a planned handicap accessible playground at Stotzky Park after her.

Councilman John Dunleavy couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Ms. Behr volunteered with the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance for three years but also worked for a paid ambulance company.

She and another emergency medical technician, Bill Stone, 30, of Ridge, who was a paid member of the Riverhead department, died when the ambulance they were in hit a tree in Aquebogue while it was transporting a Jamesport man to a hospital on May 3, 2005.

Ms. Behr left behind her then-13-month-old son, Jared, who has severe disabilities and is being raised by Ms. Behr’s family.

The group planning a Sept. 11 memorial at the recently acquired parkland on the northeast corner of Park Road and Sound Avenue in Riverhead also is likely to have a memorial in honor of Heidi Behr and other emergency service volunteers, according to Bob Kelly, a retired New York City firefighter from the Reeves Park area who made the suggestion.

The park already has a small memorial in honor of Ms. Kelly’s brother, Thomas, a New York City firefighter who died while fighting the World Trade Center fires on Sept. 11, 2001. Park Road also is named in honor of Thomas Kelly.

tgannon@timesreview.com

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