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.

04/28/11 5:51am
04/28/2011 5:51 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The image on the kiosk at Hallockville Museum Farm in Northville looking at it you can sight through the window and line the nuclear power plants with the existing wooded horizon.

If it weren’t for the tenacity and courage of a small band of North Fork farmers, some of whom have been working the land here for generations, all of us — on both forks — would be living in the shadow of nuclear plants with the same design as the destroyed plants that are devastating Japan.

Through tedious and expensive litigation, the Long Island Farm Bureau, together with several East End towns and the League of Women Voters, revealed dangerous fictions that were being peddled by the nuclear industry to sell their magic elixir here. But our East End common sense cut through the deception and we exposed what will go down in history as a shameful corporate fraud.

It was the winter of 1974 when three young farmers visited me in my law office above an appliance store in downtown Riverhead. They were worried about Long Island Lighting Company plans to build two nuclear reactors in Northville. The trio, Bill Nohejl, Robbie Hartmann, and Cliff Foster, officers of the Long Island Farm Bureau, had a budget of a few thousand dollars and wanted to retain me to represent them in upcoming state hearings on the transmission lines that would divide farms on Long Island’s most fertile and scenic agricultural corridor.

Together we began the fight that would ultimately bring nuclear power to an end on Long Island.  What we learned about the nuclear industry during that time would greatly alarm us. And because of the recent tragedy in Japan, we know now that little has changed.

In a nutshell, nuclear power is a dirty, dangerous, and expensive form of electrical energy. All nuclear power does is boil water to make steam to turn electric turbines that are a century old in design. Nuclear fission doesn’t magically create electricity; the turbines do that job, just as they do in the old coal-fired plants. As a result of the disaster in Japan, the entire world now sees the danger of this water-boiling technology. Nuclear power should be off the table as a viable energy source.

There is one place in America where the nuclear option is off the table, and that is eastern Long Island. Trust me.

Here’s how it happened:

After 80 full days of hearings and the testimony of dozens of expert economic, scientific, and engineering consultants hired by the Farm Bureau, we defeated LILCO’s plans to build a “Nuclear Power Park” of 19 — yes, 19 — nuclear plants around the East End from Wading River east to Orient on the North Fork, and then from Westhampton east to Montauk on the South Fork. The first two in the series were to be built along the coastline in Northville, which LILCO and the state referred to as Jamesport.
Through cross examination in the Jamesport Nuclear Regulatory Proceedings, the Farm Bureau secured the 4-inch-thick Nuclear Power Park Report, which included site plans and surveys of the future locations of these nuclear reactors. LILCO intended to supply the entire East Coast with electricity using the essential cooling waters of the Atlantic Ocean, so readily accessible on the relatively unpopulated East End.

The farmers were not persuaded by the editorial writers of Newsday and The New York Times, who regularly argued that the Farm Bureau and others raising questions about the safety and false economics of the nuclear industry were misguided and misinformed.

With a straight face, LILCO’s scientists testified in Riverhead that there would never be an accident that would exceed the radiation safety limits in the regulations. On cross-examination, they were forced to admit that during an accident maximum radiation limits are suspended. In other words, during an accident, an unlimited amount of radiation could spew from a plant but the utility could accurately assure the public (as they are doing now in Japan) the emissions do not exceed safety limits.

The scientists testified that no released radiation would be immediately harmful to the residents living in the vicinity of a nuclear plant. On cross-examination, they were forced to admit that no one dies immediately from cancer and leukemia but it takes a period of time for these “health effects” (as they euphemistically called them) to occur. In other words, the utility could accurately say (as they are doing now in Japan) that there is no immediate danger to the residents of the area.

The scientists further testified that the Jamesport plants would not kill any fish, as a full 10 percent of the waters off Long Island Sound would be sucked through a pipe measuring eight feet in diameter, during the course of each year, to cool the nuclear core. On cross-examination, they were forced to admit that the water would be heated 32 degrees, thereby killing billions of fish eggs each year, decimating the number of fish that would spawn in the Sound from then on. Although the Sound would essentially be sterilized, they defended their statement that no fish would be killed by saying they wouldn’t exist to begin with!

Over time, it became clear to everyone at these hearings that the nuclear industry was built upon an elaborate deception of the public and of public officials who were making energy decisions that would commit us for decades to come. The corporate “science” simply could not be trusted. Apparently, the government of Japan trusted the American companies selling these nuclear plants. And that is what went wrong.

Fortunately for us on eastern Long Island, the farmers refused to back down. They took on the industry. In a ferocious eight-year legal dogfight, the farmers argued it made no sense that the biggest machine ever made by man would never have an accident, would never have pumps fail, would never overheat. They argued that if an accident happened, even just once, it could sterilize a large portion of Long Island requiring permanent abandonment of homes due to radiation contamination. They argued that even if an accident was not catastrophic the crops on Long Island would forever be tainted in the minds of the public, ruining a billion-dollar agricultural industry .

All of this is now happening in Japan.

The farmers also stressed that the cost of these gargantuan machines was intolerably high and were only being built due to massive tax subsidies for the corporations to build them. They pointed out that it would also be costly to protect the nuclear plants and nuclear waste from terrorists and the environment, for which no solutions existed either then, or now.

The farmers engaged in eight years of grass roots fundraising in order to be able to submit reams and reams of testimony from qualified scientific experts regarding these issues. During this public battle, the farmers kept saying there had to be a better and cheaper way to make steam to turn turbines. Clean natural gas would be a better way to boil water, or instance. They argued that “painless conservation,” such as more efficient air conditioners and other appliances and programmable thermostats, would make far more energy than all the 104 nuclear plants in the country combined.

Fortunately the farmers and other well-informed activists convinced New York governors Hugh Carey and later Mario Cuomo — in one-on-one meetings — that common sense should prevail. Both governors listened to the arguments of the farmers and their allies, and had the political courage to squash the Jamesport Nuclear Reactors and years later, the Shoreham Reactor.

Just think about where we would be right now if the Newsday and The New York Times editorial boards and the utility company got their way and the East End were ringed by 19 nuclear reactors. It was a close call.

Tom Twomey resides in East Hampton and is a partner in the law firm of Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo with offices in Southold, Riverhead, and throughout Suffolk County. He served as a Trustee of the Long Island Power Authority from 1989-95 and played a role in decommissioning the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant.

04/21/11 4:45am
04/21/2011 4:45 AM

Now we know for certain what we have long suspected. The Riverhead Town Board is totally dysfunctional. Four Town Board members have confirmed it, and even some of them acknowledge it’s time for change. Just read the public statements — as reported by local media — made by our incumbent town officials over the last few weeks.

Councilman Jim Wooten

“I just don’t feel the local people of Riverhead are being fairly represented.”

“I can’t take the infighting anymore. It’s not good for Riverhead.”

“People think it’s time for a different kind of leadership in Town Hall.”

“Riverhead can do better. I see this dysfunctional board which I think hinders government.”

“Sean is paranoid about everybody…”

Supervisor Sean Walter

“I have a board where at least three of the four board members think they should be supervisor.”

“Councilman Wooten has been in office four years. Ask him what his accomplishments are.”

“I’d like to get a new town council member.”

“We need people with vision. Jim Wooten does not have vision.”

“I guess in January he [Wooten] will be looking for a job.”

Councilman John Dunleavy

Walter’s management style can be off-putting (paraphrase).

“Last week he got mad at me and came into my office and said some threatening words to me. I think that it’s immaturity.”

Councilman George Gabrielsen

“I really don’t know where he [Wooten] is coming from.”

“I don’t have a clue what he’s thinking.”

“I think personalities is what’s driving this.  It’s almost bizarre.”

The supervisor and Town Board members have told us voters exactly what we need to know. It is time for different leadership in Town Hall. The infighting on this dysfunctional, all-Republican Town Board is not good for Riverhead. There is no vision on this Town Board. The work of this one-party board is too often disrupted by party politics and petty personality differences.  The actions of our supervisor do suggest immaturity and paranoia.

We do need new board members. Riverhead can do better.

What is extraordinary is that the supervisor and three Town Board members have admitted all of this by their public statements. Who can disagree? They work with each other every day (or at least those days they show up).

To borrow a phrase from Councilman Gabrielsen, it really is “almost bizarre.”

Our supervisor and Town Board members cannot find time to attend a board meeting to consider a major polo proposal at EPCAL. They are quick to dismiss before hearing all the facts a proposal to rent downtown dock space for a dinner cruise boat. Yet they can find time to publicly berate each other. John Abbaticchio, a member of the business group which sought to rent downtown dock space is an independent third party observer. He says (referring to Town Hall) “Things are a little cuckoo over there.”  Who can argue with this observation?

Councilman Wooten last week announced “It is time for the [Republican] Party to have a new appearance in Town Hall.”  How about a disappearance on Election Day instead? While the supervisor and his all-Republican Town Board insult each other and fiddle around at the edges of the town’s real problems, Riverhead burns.

Mr. Villella is the chairman of the Riverhead Democratic Committee and a former Riverhead supervisor.

04/19/11 3:17pm
04/19/2011 3:17 PM

For 30 years I’ve been a journalist with NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw and before that with Walter Cronkite of CBS News. I’ve won two Emmys for investigative reporting. My avocation is animal lover and volunteer — not animal activist, which has a negative meaning in Riverhead. For four months since I exposed the lies surrounding the euthanasia of the dog Bruno on Dec. 21 — lies made up by animal control officer Lou Coronesi, who then shared those lies and others about me with Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Police Chief David Hegermiller — I’ve been banned from being a volunteer or even walking on shelter property.

Mr. Coronesi said Bruno had bitten a child in the face; Councilman Jim Wooten shared the real bite report with me. My own investigation could not even establish if Bruno ever bit anyone in an alleged dog fight. Mr. Coronesi also said I was disrespectful to him. To avoid him, I made a point of going to the shelter when he wasn’t on duty. One day, unfortunately, he was on duty.

With no witnesses around, Mr. Coronesi then defamed me to his bosses. This man, who has been convicted of animal-related crimes, was believed. I was banned just like Linda Mosca of RSVP, who was banned over a year ago.
What’s going on here?

Maybe in the movie “Deliverance” Mr. Coronesi would have been kept on the job, but in the real world, I believe it’s scandalous that he still is collecting a paycheck from Riverhead taxpayers after criminal convictions dating to 2003 for unlawfully hunting and possessing animals protected by federal law, and then driving with a suspended license. This and the disrespectful way he’s treated volunteers and lied about them can’t be countenanced any further. The man must go.

What is the union thinking protecting Mr. Coronesi, who has a criminal record? And what is Mr. Walter thinking protecting such a person in an election year? And why did Mr. Walter set me up in a distorted story about a medical situation that I was just reporting about at a town meeting so proper medical attention could be given to shelter animals. To his credit, Mr. Walter says the dogs at the Riverhead Animal Shelter are now being tested regularly for disease.

Well over a year ago I adopted two badly injured pit bull puppies from Riverhead. They were going to be euthanized because of financial reasons, I was told. With the help of Gail Waller, private donations and the badly maligned rescue group RSVP, whose members have saved so many Riverhead shelter dogs, the pit puppies now are well and in great homes. RSVP is the reason why the euthanasia rate in Riverhead — that never has many dogs to start with — seems low.

I also know that authorities have a way of distorting facts and figures. I sued Southampton Town after I was unlawfully banned from its shelter for what I reported firsthand. I know that records can be changed or never turned in. I know that records can be more fiction than fact. I won a jury trial in federal court in Islip and an appellate court decision over this matter and the violation of my First Amendment rights.

The Bruno case is a paradigm of what a lying employee can get away with. In the April 7 issue of the Riverhead News-Review Chief Hegermiller was quoted as saying, “Lou is more by the book, which I don’t think they (the animal activists) like.” Chief, if Mr. Coronesi’s killing of Bruno was “by the book,” then you knew Bruno was supposed to be walked finally by volunteers — after isolation since Oct. 7 — because that was all written down. Mr. Wooten learned that Mr. Coronesi had indeed informed his superiors of Bruno’s change of status. Nevertheless he was euthanized. Why?

And why, Chief Hegermiller and Supervisor Walter, do you continue to advocate and protect this man who disrespects or bans volunteers and does as little as possible to provide a good life, exercise and homes for the animals in his charge?

Ms. Lynch is a New York City and Southampton resident.