Articles by

Joseph Pinciaro

08/25/14 12:00pm
Elon Musk — show here at the Tesla Grand Opening in 2008 — has promised $1 million to a Shoreham-based group hoping to build a museum dedicated to Nikola Tesla. (Credit: Brian Solis, Creative Commons)

Elon Musk — show here at the Tesla Grand Opening in 2008 — has promised $1 million to a Shoreham-based group hoping to build a museum dedicated to Nikola Tesla. (Credit: Brian Solis, Creative Commons)

For most, it’s not easy to get the attention of the CEO of a publicly traded company.

But one Southold couple managed to do just that this week.  (more…)

08/21/14 2:12pm
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON  FILE PHOTO

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO

The New York State Department of Education has released the results of Common Core-aligned math and English Language Arts exams taken this spring by students statewide, and outcomes from local districts fall in line with wider trends.

Those trends pointed to improved scores in math overall, with ELA results generally falling or staying flat.

Statewide, proficiency rates (the number of students scoring at levels 3 and 4) increased more in math than in English. In 2013, 31.2 percent of students achieved proficiency on the math exam; that number jumped to 35.8 percent in 2014. In English, the proficiency rate ticked up one-tenth of a percent, to 31.4 percent.

The tests were — and remain — a source of conflict for many parents and teachers throughout the state. Part of New York’s Common Core State Standards, state legislators delayed some of the impacts the tests have in evaluating teacher performance in reaction to opposition from the public. The standards came after New York opted into the federal program, which supplies the state with education funds otherwise not available.

This year’s results provided the first opportunity to compare students’ test performance in consecutive years. Educators with the state’s Board of Regents, which has been implementing Common Core, said that despite what some may consider low proficiency levels – numbers that opponents say defeat the students taking the tests — long-term, the plan is going as scheduled.

“This is still a transition period,” said New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch. “It will take time before the changes taking place in our classrooms are fully reflected in the test scores.”

This year’s results are below:

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08/08/14 10:00am
An application by the Department of Environmental Conservation for a four-car parking lot at the end of Beach Way, a private road in Baiting Hollow, has prompted nearby homeowners to sue the state agency. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

An application by the Department of Environmental Conservation for a four-car parking lot at the end of Beach Way, a private road in Baiting Hollow, has prompted nearby homeowners to sue the state agency. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

In a town awash with thousands of parking spaces, an application for another four might not seem like that big of a deal.

But tucked away on the far side of a private road in Baiting Hollow, abutting land the New York State Department of State has labeled “irreplaceable,” four parking spaces the state Department of Environmental Conservation permitted itself last year are creating quite a stir.

A group of Baiting Hollow homeowners have taken the DEC to court over the proposed spaces, claiming the state regulatory authority went out of bounds in granting itself a tidal wetlands permit for the spots “in secret — free from any public awareness and scrutiny,” according to court filings.

“If I wanted to build on that DEC piece of property, they would make me go through a full environmental review of the impacts,” said Frank Isler, the Riverhead attorney representing the Baiting Hollow Beach Association. “It’s surprising to us that they didn’t do that themselves. And our argument is that they can’t benefit from mishandling a procedure incorrectly.”

Last summer, the DEC filed for — and approved — four parking spaces in a .2-acre lot at the west end of Beach Way, a private road at the end of Edwards Avenue overlooking the Long Island Sound. The application calls for the removal of approximately 100 cubic yards of sand to be replaced with pervious material to facilitate car use. In addition, it proposes removing an existing gate on the site and installing guard rails along the perimeter of the parking area.

The .2-acre site abuts a larger, 81-acre parcel also owned by the DEC — land the agency says it wants to open to the public. In 2005, those lands, called the Baiting Hollow Wetlands and Beach, were added to a list of “significant coastal fish and wildlife habitats” by New York State’s Department of State.

“Any activity that would disturb or eliminate marsh, natural beach, and duneland plant communities would result in a loss of valuable wildlife species,” the designation states. The 81-acre property — one of about 250 such areas statewide — is considered “an important nesting site” for the endangered piping plover and the threatened least tern, according to the DOS.

But members of the Baiting Hollow Beach Association argue that the DEC’s application ignored that designation. And because the application was deemed to have a minor impact on the environment, notification otherwise required was not given, and neighbors were unaware of the permit until weeks after it was filed. One homeowner, Roger Schilling, said he heard about the permit in passing as he tried to obtain repair permits for his own property.

But by then, it was too late to challenge the DEC’s permit, as a 30-day window had already passed by the time homeowners filed suit.

“As soon as we heard about it, we brought [the legal challenge,]” Mr. Isler said.

Mr. Schilling said the project would require some “major dune bulldozing” to clear land for the parking spaces.

“Part of that dune is what saves the back row of houses [on Beach Way] from flooding,” he said. “That’s why this is one of the things that infuriates us, by calling it a minor project. It’s a major project.”

08/02/14 8:00am
Wedel Signs workers installing the Veterans Memorial Park last April in Calverton. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch photo)

Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton serves as host for Riverhead softball games.
(Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Bobby Jones, the famous amateur golfer and co-founder of Augusta National Golf Club, once said, “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots. But you have to play the ball where it lies.”  (more…)

07/31/14 4:06pm
Nile Rodgers and Adam Lambert at last year’s AFTEE concert. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Nile Rodgers and Adam Lambert at last year’s AFTEE concert. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

After taking part in a star-studded concert last August and telling town leaders earlier this year that he sees himself playing in Riverhead on an annual basis — including this August — a repeat Nile Rodgers concert won’t be happening this summer after all.

The Grammy Award-winning performer told the Town Board  in May that he planned to play at Martha Clara Vineyards on Aug. 8 and Aug. 10 this year. However, following last year’s  All For the East End Concert — which featured Mr. Rodgers and his band Chic, Adam Lambert, and Avicci — this year’s event proved too much to put together as it evolved and the date grew nearer and nearer.

Dennis McDermott, one of the board members of AFTEE, was also helping Nile Rodgers Productions in a separate role make plans for a three-day festival this summer, particularly a Friday night downtown component.

“The scope got kind of big with the downtown component,” he said. “We had to kind of regroup a little bit. All of the parties are still interested — Martha Clara, Nile Rodgers, AFTEE and the Business Improvement District. But we decided to step back and regroup for next year.”

Molly O’Connor, event manager at Martha Clara, confirmed that the concert had been cancelled and organizers were focusing on holding one next year on site.

Proceeds from Nile Rodgers Productions’ concerts were going to benefit AFTEE, a nonprofit that raises money and distributes to other East End nonprofit organizations. Last year’s concert raised $50,000 which was distributed in $2,500 increments to groups such as Aid to the Developmentally Disabled, the North Fork Spanish Apostolate and the North Fork Animal Welfare League.

But after that meeting with the Town Board in late May, a representative from Nile Rodgers Productions actually pulled the plug on the event shortly after.

Peter Herman, the co-executive director of Niles Rodgers Productions, sent an email to Supervisor Sean Walter one week after he and Mr. Rodgers met with the town board on May 29. At that point in the process, the group needed a Chapter 90 application — a special events permit — in order to hold the event. However, promoters of the concert had yet to announce who would have been performing.

Mr. Herman said at the time that carrying on without a permit was what put the brakes on the plan.

“I understand that there has been some delay on the vote on our Chapter 90 application. Consequently, NRP will be unable to produce the August 9 – 10, 2014 music event/festival we were planning. Please accept this letter as official notification that we must withdraw our Chapter 90 application.”

Mr. McDermott said Mr. Rodgers still wants to play in Riverhead next year. The music legend said himself in May that he has the same vision.

“I know that we can do something incredible here that is on par with the Sundance Film Festival,” Mr. Rodgers told the board.

07/30/14 2:24pm
Dave Colone, Chairman of Suffolk County Planning Commissioner; Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Bob Delucca, President and CEO of the Group for the East End, County Executive Steve Bellone, Dick Amper, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Deputy Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. (Courtesy photo)

Dave Colone, Chairman of Suffolk County Planning Commissioner; Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment; Bob Delucca, President and CEO of the Group for the East End, County Executive Steve Bellone, Dick Amper, Executive Director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Deputy Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory. (Courtesy photo)

The Suffolk County Legislature OK’d the deal Tuesday, but voters will have the final say on an agreement that would drop two pending lawsuits environmental groups have filed against the county alleging a misuse of funds they say are reserved for protecting the county’s drinking water aquifer.

County legislators passed support for most of the deal 14-4 at their general meeting. First announced in June by County Executive Steve Bellone and the parties who initiated the lawsuits, part of the agreement maintained that after legislative approval, a public referendum would ultimately determine if the deal would go through.

The accord stems from what environmental advocates have called a “raiding” of a portion of the Drinking Water Protection Program, a quarter-percent sales tax that Suffolk voters have chosen to levy upon themselves through the year 2030. It is intended to protect groundwater through several specific uses, such as open space purchases and a fund dedicated to stabilizing residents’ sewer rates.

In 2011, and again in 2014, the county dipped into the sewer stabilization fund, using the money to help plug budget gaps. Environmentalists say that violates the terms under which voters agreed to tax themselves and is therefore illegal.

Under the proposed settlement, the county could still dip into the fund — which had a balance of around $140 million last year — until 2018, in order to meet long-term financial needs. However, any money diverted would have to be paid back in full by 2029. No interest would be attached to the repayment.

While the announcement in June required voter approval for any future changes in the Drinking Water program, legislators withheld support of that part of the deal on Tuesday. Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said that because negotiations are still technically ongoing — the lawsuit has not been officially dropped — the legislature was advised to table support for part of the agreement.

North Fork Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said he was at first “disturbed” by the agreement, since it contains no provisions guaranteeing the purchase of farmland in the future.

However, he said that Mr. Bellone and the Legislature’s willingness to preserve farmland on the East End in the past have eased his mind. And in the end, voters will still have the final say on whether or not this agreement suits their needs.

“I would have structured this a little differently, but I wasn’t at the table,” Mr. Krupski said Wednesday morning. “So I didn’t have that option … But I think if you look at this globally, this is the hand we were dealt. And past decisions have really made our options limited financially. This was, I felt, the best option to take.”

With county budget forecasts looking grim, Republican members of the Legislature — though split on the issue — expressed concern about the long-term viability of paying back the debt.

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he would rather see the dollars currently in the sewer stabilization fund — the section of the Drinking Water Protection Program that would be borrowed from — used to build sewers to revitalize the county’s downtown areas and update aging cesspool systems countywide.

“This is nothing more than kicking the can down the road with steel-tipped shoes,” Mr. Trotta said. “People are saying we cut a deal and fixed a problem. But we have beaches closing because cesspools are running into our water. Sewers would fix that.”

Legislator Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) voted in favor of moving the agreement to voters on the merits of giving the public the power to make its own decision. But he said paying the borrowed funds back by 2029 could end up being more trouble than it’s worth, a concern Mr. Krupski said the county would have to address before the payments come due.

Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Smithtown), however, pointed out that if the lawsuits proceed, and the county prevails, it won’t have to replay the funds at all.

07/29/14 4:00pm
Bob’s Discount Furniture and Pet Valu will be moving in next to Walmart. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Bob’s Discount Furniture and Pet Valu will be moving in next to Walmart. Pictured is the property in April. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Bob’s Discount Furniture, which had originally hoped to be open by Memorial Day next to the new Walmart on Route 58, has set an opening date in late August.

According to the company’s Facebook page, the furniture store will be opening on Aug. 28.  (more…)