09/21/11 8:55am
09/21/2011 8:55 AM

A certified audit by independent accountants showing Riverhead’s financial condition as of Dec. 31, 2009, is complete and available online at riverheadli.com. It establishes that when Supervisor Sean Walter took office on Jan. 1, 2010, an unrestricted general fund surplus of $8,060,427 existed and the town’s governmental funds had “$15,349,623 unreserved and available to meet the town’s current and future needs.”

The credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s also recently announced it is continuing the town’s strong AA+ credit rating, the highest credit rating ever held by the town and achieved during my time as supervisor.

Hearing those two news items I could not help but smile.

The then newly elected Supervisor Walter spent most of 2010 semi-hysterical about the town’s financial condition, constantly whining that Riverhead was in the midst of a great financial crisis that he blamed alternately on “the previous supervisor” and “the previous administration.”

Last November, in a frenzy over finances, he fired a fire marshal and other longtime town employees.

Now, in September 2011, we finally have the truth as confirmed by an independent audit and an independent credit rating agency review.

Ronald Reagan said “facts are stubborn things.” These are the stubborn facts.

• The principal reason Riverhead had ample surplus fund balances on Dec. 31, 2009, as now certified, was that during my administration we added $10,875,000 to the town’s reserves, ($7,500,000 from non-refundable contract deposits from Riverhead Resorts; $375,000 from non-refundable contract deposits from Rechler; $2,000,000 from successful settlement of litigation against LIPA; and $1,000,000 through thrifty management resulting in year-end surpluses).

• Riverhead received two upgrades from national credit rating agencies while I was supervisor, and on Dec. 31, 2009, Riverhead enjoyed its highest credit rating ever.

• The six budgets I proposed while in office contained tax rate increases averaging less than the rate of inflation. My 2005 budget proposed a tax rate decrease.

• Each of my proposed budgets used less of the town reserves than had the previous one. All used less than the previous supervisor had.

• Not one of my proposed budgets was adopted without the Republican majority’s increasing it over my objection. For example, my final budget proposed in September 2009 was adopted by the Town Board on Nov. 20, 2009, after the Republican majority had added $1.5 million to it.

In view of the certification of a large surplus when I left office and the renewal of the town’s strong credit rating achieved while I was in office, how can Mr. Walter explain his hysteria about town finances? His hysteria reached a crescendo last November with the adoption of a 2011 budget featuring the firing of town employees, including the fire marshal, and the highest town tax increase on Long Island.

Did Mr. Walter’s inaccurate statements about the town’s financial condition result from deliberate deceit or simple stupidity? You choose. There is a better way to handle the Town’s finances — honestly, openly, truthfully and with respect for the intelligence of the taxpayers.

Mr. Cardinale is a former Riverhead supervisor who is running as a Democrat for his previous post, now held by Republican Sean Walter. Mr. Cardinale is a Jamesport attorney.

08/17/11 4:21pm
08/17/2011 4:21 PM

I am very proud that Vail-Leavitt Music Hall continues to serve its mission to the community. We have managed to sustain ourselves through the efforts of great bands, including Rosie Ledet & the Zydeco Playboys, Lil’ Cliff & the Cliffhangers, Who Are Those Guys, Jessie Haynes, Bruce MacDonald, the EastEnders, Thursday Night Jazz Jammers and numerous others who gave of their time and talent to assist us in fundraising events over the last 10 months. Each of them were part of the annual Blues Festival over the last few years, and we sincerely appreciate their support at this crucial time in our organization’s history. For a more complete retrospective, I encourage readers to see the array of Vail-Leavitt memorabilia on display at Riverhead Free Library during August.

Special thanks are due to our treasurer, Vince Tria. His service to the music hall has been unquestionably meritorious through the last eight-plus years [and] an integral part of the efforts that restored and operated the Vail. Over that time, Mr. Tria was recognized with awards for his exemplary volunteerism by diverse groups including local media, Chamber of Commerce and Daughters of the American Revolution. These accolades have been rivaled only by the frequency of his often unfair vilification by those who perceive him as a political opponent.

This raises the thorny subject of local politics. Over the last nine-plus years that I have been part of the Vail-Leavitt executive board, we attempted to keep the Vail neutral. Our open rental policy provided ample opportunity for all local parties to utilize the hall for fundraising and made the Vail a comfortable forum for candidate debates, public meetings and civic events. In fact, a review of our schedule history shows that up to the town’s inaugural event of 2010, politically affiliated events were split almost exactly 50-50 between the Republican and Democratic parties, in addition to a larger number of nonpartisan Town Board meetings and events.

Our path since that inaugural is well documented in public records: a hostile takeover attempt of the Blues Festival followed by smear and innuendo tactics against us. When I offered to open discussions with town leaders in January, I was rebuffed and insulted. When I inquired about alternative sites or plans, those who had refused to negotiate in good faith suddenly expressed outrage. Finally, in April, as a last resort, I applied for two event dates specifically attempting to prompt town leaders to hold some talks — any talks — with my organization. For the record: Vail-Leavitt Music Hall board did not withdraw its special event applications this year; it was intentionally bypassed by the Town Board in favor of competing Business Improvement District Management Association proposals.

If the Town Board had read those two proposals, as I did, they would have found a compromise was easily attainable. The Vail proposed using its own outdoor stage, which wouldn’t have interfered with the BID’s use of the town showmobile. Despite my attempts to initiate a meeting prior to the Town Board’s action, none was scheduled. Both events were proposed as free admission, so why was the Vail’s specifically overlooked? Neither application included food or crafts vendors, but both food and alcohol were served at the July 16 BID event, legal violations retroactively remedied by a Town Board resolution days after the event. We all know that if the Vail-Leavitt had ever served alcohol without proper advance permits in place, the response would have been swift and severe. It’s also possible there was no proper event insurance in place for either BID event, exposing taxpayers to millions in risk because of the Town Board’s lack of due diligence in reviewing the applications.

The facts are clear. Vail-Leavitt has survived the past 19 months in spite of our town leaders. Local government should act to shield and support the Vail, not attack or ostracize it. One would think a charitable and historic community venue supporting itself independently deserved better. The music hall board never interfered with or criticized the quality of events produced by others, but the reverse cannot be said. When we urged others to talk with us, we weren’t given the opportunity to speak and were simply ignored. I believe our experience and input could have helped.

There was irony to be found in the BID’s “Mardi Gras” event. In the actual New Orleans version, the parades and music events benefit the local economy and also give financial support to many charitable and community organizations. In Riverhead, the event was produced solely for the profit earned by a few select businesses. Meanwhile, town representatives neglected and alienated the town’s oldest historic performance venue, run by an all-volunteer group that gave of its meager resources for community benefit throughout the year. The BID management association eventually and grudgingly offered the Vail a small rental fee to act as an indoor venue on Aug. 6, reminiscent of the schoolyard bully who swipes a dessert cake, eats most of it, then asks if you’d like the crumbs back. They and our Town Board should be ashamed of the manner in which they continue to treat Vail-Leavitt. Arrogance has become a conspicuous cover for an inept and bullying style embodied by these so-called leaders.

My contempt for them is exceeded only by the pride in my steadfast board and our supporters for moving us forward.

Robert Barta is president of the Council for the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall Inc.

08/03/11 3:03pm
08/03/2011 3:03 PM

Two major contracts at the Enterprise Park at Calverton were terminated during Sean Walter’s term as supervisor, the $18 million Rechler Industrial Park contract and the $155 million Riverhead Resorts contract.

When Mr. Walter terminated the Rechler contract, he said he was “happy” about what he called good news.

Most residents of Riverhead were not happy nor did they consider the demise of this contract good news.

Gregg Rechler, the most experienced and best financed developer of industrial property on Long Island, gave back what Mr. Walter was fond of calling “The Great Giveaway.” By doing so he dashed Riverhead’s hopes of an $18 million increase to our reserve fund, a larger tax base and thousands of new jobs.

Tellingly, the Rechler group blamed the contract termination on “the Town Board’s inability to understand economic fundamentals and its unwillingness to adapt to the changing economic landscape.” Rechler added: “The board had an opportunity to ensure the future of a more vibrant Riverhead. Unfortunately, the Town Board’s inability to understand the economic fundamentals of a successful project forced us to withdraw.”

Next, Mr. Walter terminated the Riverhead Resorts contract. Ever since, he has refused to consider purchase offers at EPCAL including those proposing an Indian casino and a polo and equestrian center. According to Mr. Walter, all offers conflict with “his plan.”  The property is no longer for sale.  Exactly what is Mr. Walter’s plan?

Mr. Walter’s plan is for the town to pay to survey the land, subdivide it into small lots, obtain all town, state, county and federal approvals, and then pay to build roads and install utilities and other improvements. He’s going to develop EPCAL at taxpayer expense.

In the midst of a recession, at a time when Long Island’s best financed industrial developer has declined to move forward, Mr. Walter, with no relevant experience, no clear plan, and using our tax dollars, is pushing Riverhead to be the developer of property that Long Island’s most experienced developer walked away from.

Mr. Walter promised in his inaugural address that he “would not call for another study at EPCAL.” His “plan” has already cost taxpayers more than half a million dollars for more unnecessary EPCAL studies. He is pushing to spend millions more to subdivide and improve the site, tasks typically paid for by developers. Under Mr. Walter’s plan, EPCAL will be a financial drain on taxpayers for years to come, rather than the source of immediate tax relief that it could be.

Receiving $8 million dollars at EPCAL in non-refundable deposits which happened during my administration is preferable to spending millions of tax dollars at EPCAL as is happening during Mr. Walter’s administration. Selling at market value is preferable to holding EPCAL off the tax rolls indefinitely.

The town must focus on getting EPCAL sold and back on the tax rolls so it can expand our tax base and diminish our tax burden.
The supervisor and Town Board should not use our tax dollars to play real estate developer. Town Boards are untrained and ill suited to be developers. Riverhead Town Board’s past performance trying to be a developer (e.g. at the Suffolk Theater) proved unfortunate and expensive for the taxpayers.

All that’s assured by Mr. Walter’s plan is enormous risk and excessive expense for the taxpayer.

The better way for Riverhead is to sell the property at market value, get it back on the tax rolls, and leave its development to experienced private developers.

Mr. Cardinale is a former Riverhead supervisor who is running for his old post as a Democrat.

07/14/11 4:45am
07/14/2011 4:45 AM

A recent News-Review headline read “Town probes legality of new house” in South Jamesport. Here’s how a follow-up headline could read: “Town finds house illegal, declines to act.” When laws aren’t enforced, they might as well not exist.

Here are things on which town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz and I agree:

• The house being built requires zoning variances.

• Variances issued for this property expired years ago.

• The Riverhead building department instructed the owner last December to secure variances; he did not.

• Construction was allowed to go forward on a structure that is inherently illegal.

• No action has been taken by the town since this was questioned — months ago.

Much about this complex matter is murky or disputed, but those things are clear.

In early May, I suggested halting work on the project might be appropriate until questions could be answered. The town attorney commented to me he “thought it kind of odd” that the building department did not say — in December — that “no further work shall be done.” He also indicated a stop work order would be requested, but no stop work order was issued.

I emphasized that, if the project is at risk, no one is doing the owner any favors by delaying action. When someone’s spending $10,000 per week, why wait 10 weeks to tell him he must get zoning exceptions or can’t occupy his house? It makes violations harder to correct and increases the odds he’ll sue the town.

When I asked the town attorney whose interests were served by waiting, he declined to respond.

This all started with a question, not a complaint. A construction site lacked a permit, so I asked the building department about the matter. “Yes, a permit must be posted,” I was told. I said, “Well, this project needs one.”

With no permit in evidence two months later, I checked the file. I found far too many problems to list here, but here are a few highlights (beyond the missing variances):

• A county health department-approved site plan says “one-story house.”

• The site and building plans disagree on house height above grade.

• The original property owner says the natural grade was raised 3 feet before the referenced survey; he wrote to the building department that the house still violates height limits.

• The building plans say site elevation is 83 feet. (No land in South Jamesport is 83 feet high).

• The plans sometimes describe a 2-foot crawl space and sometimes an 8-foot basement — but it can’t be both. (The house has a big Bilco cellar door that isn’t on the plans and appears to breach setbacks).

• There are two “attics.” One is where you’d expect. The other adjoins second floor bedrooms — 350 square feet, insulated, with a standard door, four big windows and a loft ceiling. (Will this remain “unfinished attic storage” after the inspectors leave?)

I didn’t file a complaint but inquired of the town attorney’s office. It was then suggested I write to the Town Board. I detailed apparent problems and said an investigation seemed in order. That was May 6.

On May 9, Supervisor Sean Walter copied me on a note to Mr. Kozakiewicz, directing him to have code enforcement check it out and report back.

On May 16, Mr. Kozakiewicz told me he was researching the matter. Work continued, and still no permit.

On July 8, Mr. Kozakiewicz said he planned to ask the building department to determine whether there is a basement, and to direct the owner to apply for new variances.

Think about that. Two months after the Town Board was alerted to the apparently illegal project, and eight months after the building department began inspections, the town had not yet determined if there the house had a basement.

One thing did happen after the Town Board was alerted; the building department issued a permit that predates the owner’s application! He applied Nov. 19, 2010. The building department responded Dec. 14, 2010 that he must get variances, then this June issued a permit dated Nov. 3, creating the illusion that everything’s fine. It’s like stamping “kosher” on a ham.

I won’t speculate on why all this happened but note that I’ve had many satisfactory dealings with the building department. And I’ve watched a dozen neighbors build or renovate in as many years, without issues. This is different.

The planning department fought hard to oppose creation of this tiny lot. Why the Zoning Board of Appeals allowed this odd subdivision just 10 days before new zoning was enacted remains a mystery. It was vacant land, bought by an up-island speculator after the town Master Plan was announced. He knew when he purchased that it couldn’t be split; there was no “hardship.”

The ZBA, whose members we don’t elect, has absolute power. Through one decision at a time, they can override and invalidate the Master Plan. In this case, with some members appointed by an administration that has denounced zoning rules, the odds seem high they’ll approve this mansion sitting on 16,000 square feet of land, where the minimum lot is 40,000 square feet.

Still, getting a variance is the law. If we stop requiring that owners follow rules and procedures, we give up even the pretense of a town governed by laws, equitably, with just one class of citizen. That’s unthinkable.

Larry Simms is a principal in a commercial flooring technology firm.  He owns a house in South Jamesport.

06/09/11 3:36am
06/09/2011 3:36 AM

Over the past several months, as most Wading River residents are aware, a series of letters has arrived in our mailboxes on bold letterhead entitled “Save Wading River,” all signed by Dominique Mendez. The wording and tone of these letters contains phrases such as “… our town officials promised us nothing significant in the way of action … Not even a commitment to obey the law on the review of all this proposed mega-development.” So, naturally I became alarmed as the last thing I envisioned for my new hometown was to be another Route 58, filled with more drug stores, chain restaurants, fast food joints and outlet malls. In the interest of developing an informed opinion, however, I decided to investigate this issue further and became more acquainted with what plans, exactly, these commercial developer “culprits” had in mind, and I must say this turned out to be a fascinating experience.

Kenney Barra, the owner and proprietor of The Inn and Spa at East Wind, was kind enough to give me, a total stranger, 90 minutes of his time to further explain his development plans along the route 25A corridor. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Mr. Barra intends to build a lovely village, almost akin to a Milleridge Village, with little shops and restaurants in the shape of a small town square, between what is now The Village Beverage and the East Wind reception hall.  I was also impressed to learn that Mr. Barra also had several parties already interested in renting these prospective suites and that these shops were all to be mom-and-pop-type shops and not large, chain-type establishments. Yet, when I attended a “Save Wading River” function at the Shoreham-Wading River Library I was almost appalled at the misrepresentation of the very plans I myself was shown. Slogans like “food court” and “strip mall” were used to represent these lovely plans that would bring jobs and industry to our town. Not to mention the fact that the architectural designs used to build this village seem to fit right in with the rural character that Wading River so proudly boasts — that is to say, cute little houses and water fountains to be polished with immaculate landscaping.

During the course of my investigation, I as well found myself speaking with another entrepreneur, Keith Luce of the Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport. This fine chef and businessman has become a victim of Ms. Mendez’ Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, too. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of having a gourmet meal at Jedidiah Hawkins, you are missing a lovely evening or charming lunch.  Fine wine and great food are featured from our local vineyards and quaint farm stands. Yet Mr. Luce, in an attempt to fill his vacant barn with highly expensive suites that cater to Manhattan’s elite class, has been yet another civic association punching bag. According to a May 7, 2011, article entitled “Town code change would allow more rooms at the inn,” which appeared on RiverhealLocal.com, Phil Barbato and Dominique Mendez wrote, “What is the point of planning, codes and zoning if every time a business (or for that matter a resident) asks for an exception, they are given a variance or the code is changed.”

Again I find myself at a crossroads. Mr. Luce has a vacant barn on his property that he is looking to use for additional bedrooms to his lovely inn and, I might add, to aid as an offset to his $50,000 per annum property tax bill. Is it really necessary to drag this businessman, who creates jobs and industry for our town, through the mud for some obscure purpose? What disruption is this to the community?

While the concept of neighborhood civic associations appears noble, it seems as though they may have gone awry or that, I hate to say, there is some other agenda at hand. For while I am a conservative and favor business development and property rights, I also love the rural nature of our community and would certainly hate to see it vanish at the expense of massive commercial development. However, several of the proposals the Town of Riverhead is currently facing seem hardly unreasonable and, in fact, quite advantageous for the community. After all, what’s so bad about spending a romantic evening with your significant other at the Jedediah Hawkins Inn; enjoying fine wine and magnificent food, then waking up the next day to a gourmet breakfast? Perhaps you have a Saturday evening wedding at the glorious Inn and Spa at East Wind and decide to enjoy a fine Sunday lunch at one of the local “mom and pop” restaurants in the village, followed by a romantic afternoon at the vineyards.

We have much to offer to our neighbors “up west” and much to gain in the process. By all means, let’s not let that opportunity pass us by.

Mr. Mills is a member of the Riverhead Republican Committee and president of the Riverhead Republican Club. He lives in Wading River.

06/01/11 12:33pm
06/01/2011 12:33 PM

It’s hard to think of something more evocative of summer than one of our local farm stands. After all, Suffolk County ranks No. 1 in the market value of its crops. Suffolk also tops the list in the Empire State in terms of the number of acres dedicated to nurseries and sod production. Suffolk is even king when it comes to raising ducks.

Farms are also important to Long Island because, as our friends at the Long Island Farm Bureau put it, they also provide a buffer against suburban sprawl and maintain the traditional rural character of the East End while providing the landscape and scenic beauty that help promote tourism.

However, the days of the East End as a leading agricultural region may be numbered, unless we get serious about protecting farms here and around New York State.

Over 613,000 acres of New York farmland have been lost to development in a single decade, and now a farm disappears every three and a half days.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farms in Suffolk County decreased by 10 percent between 2002 and 2007. While total farmland acreage has remained stable for now, smaller farms under 50 acres — the vast majority of all farms — are the ones most likely to be hurt by the effects of skyrocketing fuel costs.

We need to strengthen the safety net for Long Island’s farms before this situation gets any worse. That is why Albany needs to help protect farmers and promote New York State products by allowing for the sale of wine in grocery stores.

These issues may seem unconnected. However, New York League of Conservation Voters and our partners at the American Farmland Trust have persuaded lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate to include provisions in the recently submitted Wine Industry and Liquor Store Development Act to help New York’s farms and wineries at the same time. Let me explain.

New York State currently has a Farmland Protection Fund that gives grants to municipalities to purchase development rights from farmers. Farmers can then re-invest the funds to maintain their facilities, buy more land, upgrade their equipment and stay economically viable (rather than succumb to development pressure).

The Farmland Protection Fund, however, has been battered and bruised through years of budget cuts and now receives just over $10 million a year, a meager 6 percent of the estimated need.

Besides being underfunded, the Farmland Protection Fund has actually made promises it can’t keep. The fund has a backlog of $75 million and a long list of farms that were promised help but never received it. This list includes farms in Jamesport, Southold, Calverton, Shoreham and Riverhead.

If all of our farms are going to survive, we have to look to new, creative ways to protect them.

There has been talk about allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores for several years. But for the first time, this issue is being connected with helping our farms in three ways.

First, if the sale of wine in grocery stores is allowed, East End wineries can dramatically increase their market presence in the Empire State. That will strengthen Long Island’s $65 million viticulture industry and the 4,000 jobs it provides.

Second, by dedicating a percentage of the tax revenues from the sale of wine to farmland protection, the state can begin to clear the backlog of projects and honor future commitments.

Third, by protecting farms from development, we can retain the East End’s rural character and protect precious open space. As we all know, undeveloped land is critical for the environment because it protects our drinking water and provides wildlife habitat.

The economic stakes for the East End could not be higher. Suffolk County farms constitute a $201 million industry that employs thousands of people. By allowing the sale of wine in grocery stores today, our elected leaders in Albany can help keep this economic engine running for good.

Residents of the East End will also be able to continue to enjoy those amazing farm stands every summer, as will our children and our children’s children.

Ms. Bystryn is president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. She resides in Remsenberg.

05/25/11 12:02pm
05/25/2011 12:02 PM

Painful property tax increases could cease if state legislators wholeheartedly enacted Governor Cuomo’s property tax cap that limits annual property tax increases to 2 percent.

It is what voters want. In fact, last month’s Sienna College poll said that New Yorkers overwhelmingly favor the idea of a tax cap, 75 percent to 21 percent.

A tax cap with mandate relief for Long Island can be achieved, but it presents a real test for all of us, specifically our state elected officials.

First, it will be a test for the governor. Can he effectively leverage the overwhelming 3-1 margin of support for a tax cap so that a bill enacting a cap finally becomes law?

The governor’s “put people first” statewide tour, which I attended this past week, shows that he is striving to pass that test. Rather than just negotiating with the obstinate state Legislature, he is taking his advocacy to the citizenry and asking us to take action by educating our neighbors and fellow voters.

His message included sharing the findings of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, which found Suffolk’s property taxes to be 281 percent higher than the nation’s median real property tax base. In fact, all New York’s counties are in the top 20 percent nationwide.

Equally disturbing was last week’s survey that determined 26 percent of all New Yorkers plan on leaving within the next five years — that number includes 36 percent of those under 30 — due largely to New York’s crushing tax burden.

However, the governor anticipates that not all districts would welcome a 2 percent tax cap, and that is why he included an override provision if 60 percent of the voters in a school district chose to opt out of the cap. Also exempted from the tax cap are capital expenditures, such as the cost of new buildings or buses.

Second, it will be a test for the state Senate. To the Senate’s credit, on a bipartisan basis they passed the governor’s hard cap bill in January. But a bill passing only one house of the Legislature provides no relief to taxpayers. There is quite a bit of heavy lifting that our state senators must do if they really are serious about a tax cap.

Such an effort should include Long Island’s nine state senators building a coalition with their 21 fellow Assembly members to lobby as a regional bloc, rather than remaining complacent in their safe cocoon blocs of Republican versus Democrat or Assembly versus Senate. To date, such a Long Island non-partisan regional bloc has not transpired, even though there is just over one month left before the Legislature leaves Albany for the year. Such a regional bloc can not only push forward a tax cap, but will have the muscle to obtain true mandate relief for townships and school districts.

Third, it is also a test for eerily silent suburban Assembly members, especially those in the Democratic majority, of which there are seven on Long Island. They must join the governor by insisting that a mutually agreed upon property tax cap bill, with the appropriate mandate relief, passes both houses and is delivered to the governor’s desk.

Finally, it is a test for us as citizens to truly begin holding our elected officials accountable.

Our yardstick should be the old mariner’s adage: Don’t tell me the seas are rough, just tell me that you brought the boat to harbor safely. The opponents of a property tax cap may create choppy seas, but East End taxpayers must no longer tolerate excuses of political turbulence.

Our message to our legislators is simply this: Bring an enacted property tax cap and mandate relief law back to harbor.

Ms. Calcaterra is a New Suffolk attorney who made an unsuccessful bid to gain the Democratic line in last year’s First State Senate District election.

05/18/11 4:33pm
05/18/2011 4:33 PM

The recent Guest Spot about the misadventure of the Long Island Lighting Company with nuclear power in Northville offers but a single chapter. The full history of that saga involved so many others that this writer has to state, at the outset, that I can offer but just another chapter, though one worthy of our reflection. Indeed, my goal here is to recount only one of a number of heroes to the East End who played a vital role in stopping the nuclear plant — the late Riverhead Councilman Antone Regula.

First, a quick background. LILCO’s ambition to rise to the lucrative status of a national broker of nuclear power fell apart due in great measure to a popular uprising among the regular folks of the Town of Riverhead, wherein the Northville — which the state and LILCO referred to as Jamesport — plant was to be built. This uprising came to fruition thanks to Tony Regula, who led the charge in his quiet, mild-mannered way at a critical time by thinking out of the box in the face of intense pressure to back off.
With his tenacity, the whole idea of a Jamesport nuclear plant actually made its way to the voting booth, in the form of a ballot proposition in the 1979 town elections. The ballot question he and I drafted was simply worded, and was as well both proper and lawful. Riverhead Town’s voters resoundingly rejected the plant. In fact, federal agencies were in charge of nuclear plants, so this vote was not technically binding on the feds. But this vote by the people sent a crucial signal far and wide.

You see, up until that ballot vote, the Town Board of Riverhead, in the hope of tax revenues the plant would bring, strongly backed LILCO’s nuke plant plan.  Long before November 1979, board members made clear to all who would listen that which they sincerely believed: The nuke plant idea enjoyed strong local support.  This, in turn, convinced the county Legislature, and the local representatives in Albany and Washington, that a Jamesport nuclear power plant made political sense, simply because it was a popular idea. LILCO itself presumed local popularity for a Jamesport plant in its lobbying efforts in Albany and D.C., and its lobbyists carried this presumption to willing listeners in then County Executive John Klein and Governor Hugh Carey.

That is why Tony Regula met angry reaction, even political threats, when he openly pushed to have the plant project up for a vote. Some of his Town Board colleagues felt he was putting them on the spot. Their private and public discussions on a vote grew harsh. Yet he persisted. Finally the Town Board relented and approved Tony’s ballot proposition for the following November. The referendum and the controversy surrounding it gained much unexpected pre-vote publicity. This resulted in significantly higher voter turnout on Election Day.  When the votes were counted, the Jamesport nuclear project, without the first shovel in the ground, was dealt a resounding defeat. Democracy triumphed with the profound impact of this rejection, even contributing in great measure to the first election of a relatively unknown candidate for the office of Riverhead supervisor, Joe Janoski. Not unlike others, previous guest columnists included, the late supervisor preferred not to mention this referendum, or its real effect. But the repercussions of this vote, thanks to Mr. Regula, reached the heart of the issue.

The false weapon of community backing, shamelessly exploited by LILCO and its Wall Street and nuclear industry buddies, and the lobbyists, banks, insurance companies and the powerful construction trade unions, was dramatically snatched right out of their hands. The truth set Riverhead Town free. The people’s will carried to the Suffolk County Legislature, which reversed its support of LILCO’s Jamesport ambitions for the first time, within only weeks after and largely because of that referendum. Then the public hearings against nuclear power on Long Island showed new spirit as they raised the referendum’s dramatic outcome time and again. No one argues that this vote was the Jamesport plant’s downfall, yet in retrospect, it not only blunted the speed and self-assurance of the greedy special interests, but it also gave added focus to a grass-roots offensive that gained momentum.
We remember Tony Regula as a real gentleman, a truly good, ordinary, big-hearted guy who did what he knew had to be done and stuck with it, not unlike the people of Riverhead Town whom he represented. More important than his legacy of helping to spare us the Jamesport nuclear plant, and likely the others which were sure to dot the eastern Long Island landscape, was his inspiration for all of us, especially young people who seek role models for public service: that when you hold on to what you know is right and work hard, even struggle, to make the world a better place, you’re more than just an idealist, you’re someone who can make a real and lasting difference.

Greg Blass, who resides with his family in Jamesport, is a former U.S. Naval officer who has practiced law in Riverhead and represented the East End in the county Legislature, where he was also presiding officer, and where he chaired public hearings on health, safety and evacuation issues in connection with the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. He also served 10 years as a family court judge and is now commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Social Services.