12/31/10 8:00pm
12/31/2010 8:00 PM

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Private First Class Moke Kahalehoe, center, and his family pose in front of their new car with Congressman Tim Bishop Dec. 23.

A Wading River veteran, who developed a painful and incurable disease after a severe wound suffered in combat training, drove out of the Riverhead Nissan parking lot Dec. 23 with a brand new Nissan Armada SUV so he can spend New Year’s with his family.

Private First Class Moke Kahalehoe, 29, was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 2005 after an accident in martial arts training caused three broken bones, which spurred reflex sympathetic dystrophy.

The pain induced by this rare disorder is rated higher than pain induced by broken bones, gun shots, amputation, cancer and childbirth without medicine.

“I have pain every second of my life,” PFC Kahalehoe said. “Most of my bad days, I’m curled up in the fetal position, crippled with pain. It feels like hot lava with knives going through my body. I can’t even have a ceiling fan on because the wind against my body is excruciating.”

He’s been on a variety of medications and treatments, one of which put him in a coma, which he says could have killed him. He currently takes ketamine, a hallucinogenic recreational drug not approved by the FDA, to help with the pain.

He is on 100 percent disability from Veterans Affairs, and is eligible for financial assistance to purchase an automobile. In 2008, he tried unsuccessfully to obtain the assistance, and instead bought a car with his own money. When his wife, Amanda, 25, had their second child in August, he needed a larger car and said he called Veterans Affairs every single day since Oct. 13 to no avail.
Ten days ago, he reached out to Congressman Tim Bishop (D – Southampton) who pressured the VA and secured money for the Kahalehoe family to purchase their new car.

“In an ideal world, a veteran should not ever need his congressional representative to intervene,” Mr. Bishop said at Riverhead Nissan Thursday. “I’m awfully glad you came to us. I wish you came to us earlier.”

Ms. Kahalehoe said their old Nissan Altima wasn’t large enough to fit her husband’s wheelchair and her children’s strollers and car seats. Though the car will help her family, she said living with her husband’s disease is heartbreaking.

“It’s very hard to know your husband has this disorder and you don’t know if giving him a hug might hurt him,” she said. “If your daughter wants to play on her father, she has to be careful. It debilitates you in ways you never thought it would.”

This tragedy does have a silver lining. Mr. and Mrs. Kahalehoe met at the Beaufort Naval Hospital in South Carolina where Mrs. Kahalehoe, also a former Marine, was being treated for optic neuritis.

Mr. and Mrs. Kahalehoe  plan to drive to Pennsylvania in their new SUV with their daughters Leilana, 3, and Isabella, 6 months, to spend New Year’s with Mr. Kahalehoe’s family.

“It’s definitely a miracle,” Mr. Kahalehoe said.

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12/31/10 12:28pm

A Shoreham man is set to serve five months behind bars after environmental police busted him mislabeling oysters that were later found to be laden with coliform bacteria, state officials said.

Kyle Frisina had harvested the oysters from the Nissequogue Riverhead in Smithtown, which is closed to shellfishing, authorities said.

State Department of Environmental Conservation police first busted Mr. Frisina while he was digging in the river June 17.  He was charged in that incident, but an investigation led to some 2,100 oysters at a seafood dealer that were found to contain “extremely high levels of coliform bacteria,” police said. The oysters were labeled as being harvested by Mr. Frisina between June 13 and June 16 and were tagged illegally.

The oysters were later destroyed by the seafood company.

Mr. Frisina pleaded guilty Dec. 22 to four misdemeanor counts related to improper tagging. His shellfish harvester permit has also been revoked for five years, state officials said.

Shellfish tagging is crucial to tracking shellfish-borne illnesses in humans. Oysters are tagged by the harvester to denote the specific location in body of water from which they were taken. DEC authorities are urging anyone who witnesses an environmental crime to report it at (800) TIPP-DEC.

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12/31/10 8:00am

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | An artist's rendering of the proposed Riverhead Resorts, a 90-acre lake and mountain resort.

At the beginning of 2010, Riverhead Town had a new supervisor and an all-Republican Town Board. But the officials still had in their laps the same two massive and controversial land sale/development projects pitched for the former Grumman site in Calverton. Both projects were initiated some three years back, during the previous administration.

If deals with Riverhead Resorts-—which was seeking to buy 755 acres for a giant resort and entertainment complex, including an indoor ski mountain— and Rechler Equity Partners—which sought to purchase 300 acres to build a hi-tech industrial park— ever came to fruition, the town would be rolling in money. Resorts’ was offering $100 million and Rechler $18 million, and both of those prices had come down from previous agreements.

But in the end, neither deal happened.

Rechler, which had previously convinced the town to lower its sale price from $35 million, asked the town to allow residential and retail spaces mixed in with the industrial uses initially sought. Town officially were opposed to that idea, and when push came to shove, Rechler pulled out of the deal.

Resorts, which had already paid the town about $7.5 million, eventually starting missing payments needed to extend its contract with the town. The deal would allow the group to buy three-month extensions beyond the May 15 deadline to close the deal, at $1.9 million each. They missed deadline after deadline, but a split Town Board, with Supervisor Sean Walter as the swing vote, continued to give them time. In November, Resorts showed up with a check for nearly $4 million, representing two of the three extension payments they had missed, and even posed for pictures with the check at a Town Board meeting. But the check was in English pounds and was not a bank check. Town officials gave them a week to allow the check to clear.

Pointing to security concerns, Resorts representatives later said their bank had problems with the fact that a closeup photo of the check was posted at RiverheadNewsReview.com and they instead wanted to wire the money and cancel the check. After that, Mr. Walter changed his vote and called a special meeting to formally cancel the contract. Resorts had said it would still try to get the money to the town in hopes that officials would change their mind, but Mr. Walter said that never happened.

In the end, two massive projects, one that was supposed to deliver hundreds of high-paying jobs to the area, and another that could have changed the region completely, both completely dissolved within weeks of one another.

As for the Resorts project, many felt Riverhead Town was better off. It’s now back to square one at the Calverton land known as EPCAL. Officials are planning to hire a consulting firm to re-evaluate proposed uses for the huge property.

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12/30/10 1:23pm
12/30/2010 1:23 PM

The Riverhead Town Board approved about 42 small budget transfers at its meeting Tuesday to cover the $151,154 in union employee salary “step” increases officials said were accidentally omitted from the adopted 2011 town budget in November.

The Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing most non-police town employees, had filed a grievance over the omissions.

Town finance administrator Bill Rothaar admitted at the time that the money was mistakenly left out of Supervisor Sean Walter’s proposed budget in October. But because the board could never muster the required three votes in favor of any one alternate budget by the Nov. 20 deadline, Mr. Walter’s budget became the adopted budget by default, under state law.

Step increases go beyond the employee’s normal base salary and differ from employee to employee based on criteria such as experience and years of service.

“If they do the right thing, we will withdraw the grievance,” CSEA president Matt Hattorff said in an interview last Thursday.
All but four of the proposed transfers are under $10,000, with the biggest being $26,079 from the general repairs section of the highway department budget.

“We’re taking it from a whole bunch of accounts,” Mr. Walter said at Thursday’s work session. “They’re all over the place.”

“This is the first meeting of the year and we’re already starting to move money around,” Councilman John Dunleavy said during Tuesday’s Town Board meeting. “It’s kind of strange.”

Normally, the town makes budget transfers toward the end of the year, when some funds are exhausted before the year’s end while others are underspent.

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12/30/10 1:11pm

Former Town Supervisor Bob Kozakiewicz is expected to officially be named Riverhead town attorney Tuesday at an annual salary of $106,500, which is slightly less than the current town attorney makes.

The board also may appoint another attorney, William Duffy, to a deputy attorney post at a salary of about $88,000, officials said at Thursday’s Town Board work session.

Mr. Kozakiewicz, who had been town attorney from 1996 to 1997, would replace Dawn Thomas,  the town attorney since 2000. Her 2010 salary was $109,474. She is stepping down to take a job as a law clerk for State Supreme Court Judge Ralph Gazzillo

Mr. Kozakiewicz was town supervisor for two terms, from 2000 to 2003, and was on the board that hired Ms. Thomas.

In 2010, Ms. Kozakiewicz and James Saladino, who also is the head of the town Conservative Party, were hired as part-time town attorneys at $44,000 apiece per year, to replace a full-time attorney who had left, and was making $100,483.  Mr. Saladino is also stepping down from his town position this week.

At the time of their hiring, some had questioned why the town covered 75 percent of the health insurance costs for part-time attorneys. Supervisor Sean Walter said the town was paying less for the two part-timers, each working 20 hour weeks, than for a full-time attorney working 35 hours a week.

Under the pending employment agreement slated to be voted on next Tuesday, Mr. Kozakiewicz would be a full-time employee awith 100 percent of his health insurance paid by the town.

12/30/10 8:00am

BARBARELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Former Superintendent Diane Scricca

Riverhead School District officials were hoping to convince voters that now was the perfect time to launch a massive $123 million school expansion project.

The economy was down, which meant that interest rates would be lower and contractors hungry for work meant labor would come cheaply.

School officials also hoped to convince residents a major school expansion and renovation project was not only needed, but required. The district’s old buildings had fallen out of compliance with state law concerning safety and people with disabilities. They said maintenance and upkeep of district buildings had frequently been the thing that got cut from prior budgets. And they said that while recent enrollment hadn’t grown much, the buildings still couldn’t handle the enrollment growth from a decade ago.

In February 2010, they finally pulled the trigger and put the massive school expansion and renovation project they’d been planning for so long before residents for a vote.

The $123 million proposal called for additions to all of district buildings, except Roanoke Avenue, which would become an administrative office. It also called for renovations that officials said had been put off for years, for a new high school football field on artificial turf and new baseball and soccer fields.

The verdict? Not even close. Residents overwhelming shot down the bond issue, with only 38 percent of the 5,933 voters in favor.

Many residents said they understood the need for some of the work, but that the price tag was just too high, especially in a slow economy where people didn’t have as much money.

School superintendent Diane Scricca, who had advocated for the expansion, announced just months later that she would retire at the end of the school year. She pointed to the bond’s defeat as part of the reason why she was leaving.

District officials have since formed another committee to again consider school space needs.

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12/29/10 8:01am
12/29/2010 8:01 AM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Assemblyman Marc Alessi (left) and county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) (third from left) vowed to fight the proposed change, explaining that the East End's local businesses were hit hard last year, when the state approved a payroll tax on all businesses, government agencies and schools in an effort to close the MTA's original $1.2 billion budget gap.

East Enders were up in arms when they learned the Metropolitan Transit Authority was considering putting the breaks on weekday train service and winter weekend service along the Greenport line, and cut service to the Hamptons, in order to plug a mounting budget deficit. The MTA explained in January, when it announced the measure, that the line, which runs east of the Ronkonkoma station and spans the North Fork, is its least used and that the move would have only affected about 200 riders daily yet save almost $1 million annually.

What angered many locals even more was that the announcement came just months after New York State instituted a .34 percent payroll tax on all employers in New York City and the surrounding counties, including Suffolk, to help the cash-strapped transit agency’s budget woes.

But a massive outcry from community members, activists and elected officials — and talks of having the East End secede from the MTA to create its own regional transit system — all helped in getting the transit authority to reconsider. The MTA ultimately only eliminated winter weekend service past Ronkonkoma, but kept weekday service. It also changed the train schedule in September to allow juror candidates to take the train to Riverhead courts from points west.

Now the MTA is considering putting smaller diesel-powered shuttle trains in service on the North and South forks to better service the East End. The transit agency has agreed to fund a $2.8 million study to determine the feasibility of running smaller diesel-engine “scoot” trains here and in other areas the LIRR serves.

Talks of seceding from the MTA have since been put on hold.