07/27/12 11:00am
07/27/2012 11:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Director Karen Testa holds a snapping turtle that came to the center with a broken jaw. Dental acrylic is holding its broken bones in place as they heal.

Shells shattered, jaws crushed, legs and paws mangled. Karen Testa and the volunteers at Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, which opened in Jamesport in May, see it all. And, Ms. Testa freely admits, it is physically and emotionally exhausting.

They do it because nobody else does, she says.

And it never gets any better.

MICHAEL WHITE

“I foresee doom in their future, because of the pollution in the water and all the development,” Ms. Testa told me last week, not the slightest hint of exaggeration in her voice. “We had to euthanize 20 turtles in just over two months. And these are just the ones that people find. Could you imagine the ones that they don’t find? They die a slow, horrible death off in the woods. Or they drown at the bottom of the bay.”

Most turtles are injured by cars, boat propellers, tractors or  industrial lawn mowers.

If they’re fortunate enough to be found, they end up in Jamesport.

Housed in a two-story 1929 colonial that sits on a full acre, the rescue operation is currently home to about 70 turtles, 30 of which are recovering from surgeries on the building’s second floor, which is complete with an ICU, nursery and operating tables.

Ms. Testa and her two principal volunteers, Ryan Ortiz of Orient and Beth Groff of Jamesport, are available by phone 24 hours a day for emergencies. If someone can’t bring a turtle to the rescue center, the volunteers will go to the turtle, no matter where it is on Long Island or the city.

“We’ll go somewhere just to move a turtle; say a snapper turtle is on a golf course and people don’t know what to do,” said Ms. Testa, the owner of Suffolk-based K Testa Real Estate who, not surprisingly, doesn’t spend much time selling homes nowadays.

It would be easy for anyone to imagine these animals dying out in the woods after seeing the turtles being nursed back to health in Jamesport. Some have their jaws wired shut, others have their shells stapled together. Many are missing limbs. Some have deformed shells or ear abscesses due to water pollution or mis-care or malnutrition.

Just days before my visit, volunteers had to tube-feed a two-inch baby diamondback terrapin after a woman stepped on it in her garden in Sag Harbor.
“Could you believe that?” Ms. Testa added, thrilled that the little one has been doing fine lately.

The Turtle Rescue is the kind of place that’s depressing, in a way, especially seeing the more skittish turtles and wondering what they might have been through. But it also makes you proud of mankind, just knowing there are people willing to give so much to care for these venerable yet vulnerable creatures.

Not only Ms. Testa and the volunteers, but people like Sal Caliguri of Sal’s Auto Body in St. James, which purchased and donated the one-acre property. And Dr. Robert Pisciotta of North Fork Animal Hospital in Southold, a resident vet who works pro bono in his spare time to care for the turtles.

When I asked Ms. Testa just what it was about turtles that sparked such passion in her and the others, she explained that turtles “are the underdog; they need the most help.”

And many of them shouldn’t ever have been born. Red-eared sliders, for one, are farmed specifically for the many pet stores across the state, country and overseas, where anyone could buy a juvenile for just a few bucks.

These turtles aren’t indigenous to New York but instead, Ms. Testa said, get dumped by people “after junior’s been occupied for a month.”

The dozen or so sliders at the shelter will be there their entire lives, as they can’t legally be released into local woods and waters.

“Many of them will outlive me,” Ms. Testa said.

In the wild, red-eared sliders live for about 50 years. Not in someone’s house; that’s a commitment no person can keep.

But Ms. Testa said she’s too busy to lobby in Albany to outlaw the sale of turtles, because she’s at the center all day. In some of her downtime, she hands out informational cards to local landscapers, urging them to look out for turtles and, if they hit one with a mower, to call Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons.

“Tortuga, tortuga,” she’ll tell those who don’t speak English.

A man from East Islip called the center about the time I arrived last Thursday. He had found a terrapin in distress at a marina there. It was probably injured by a boat. The rescue staff told him to take it to a local animal hospital, which he did. A vet had to put it down, the staff later learned.

“Well, that’s one less turtle suffering,” said Ms. Testa.

If you spot a turtle that appears to be in distress, call Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons at 631-603-4959, 516-729-7894 or 631-779-3737. Visit http://turtlerescueofthehamptons.org/ to find out more information about the center, or how to donate or volunteer.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com.

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03/24/12 10:00am
03/24/2012 10:00 AM

For those just catching up on the latest YMCA proposal and subsequent debate, here’s a crash course: the Peconic YMCA group is trying to purchase nine acres across from Vineyard Caterers on Main Road in Aquebogue, where it wants to build its long-dreamed-of Y facility. No official plans have been filed with the town as of yet. In fact, the YMCA does not yet even own the property. But some in Aquebogue and neighboring Jamesport are in an uproar and have launched a “Save Main Road” campaign similar to the “Save Wading River” movement on the other side of Riverhead Town. Both campaigns are designed to block what some locals and environmentalists consider inappropriate development projects proposed for their respective hamlets.

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot of misinformation flying about from those for a YMCA and those against such a facility at this location. To help readers see through some of the smoke, I wanted to give each side a chance to answer some key questions that have arisen during the last few weeks, in a manner that doesn’t have to go through a reporter’s or editor’s filter on what to keep and what to cut.

I used this newspaper’s editorial coverage, reader comments posted on riverheadnewsreview.com and Facebook, and my own dealings with Peconic YMCA over the years to come up with the questions. I hope this helps in understanding the issues at hand.

Georgette Keller, Jamesport-South Jamesport Civic Association, president

Q: What do you think is the chief concern among those against this location for a Y?

A: Although we are all in support of a YMCA, the people of Save Main Road oppose this particular location. Ten years ago, the master plan severely restricted development on this stretch of the rural corridor to avoid the issues this project brings with it of traffic and the character of this area. Yes, there is a catering hall across the street but that’s why it’s even more important that this largely residential area doesn’t get further compromised by commercial-type development and huge structures. The Town Board recognized it then and planned for limited development because of it. We can’t just keep making exceptions left and right when anyone proposes a project and expect Riverhead to preserve its North Fork character and culture.

Q: Many at the ‘Save Main Road’ meeting spoke of keeping the land as ‘virgin forest.’ Is this really plausible?

A: Of course. That’s what we have the Peconic Bay Transfer Tax for, as well as many other nonprofit and community organizations on the East End, such as Peconic Land Trust, North Fork Environmental Council, and even the movement of Save What’s Left. The purpose of the RB-80 zoning is to preserve agricultural soils and to allow limited residential development. A virgin forest is certainly more in line with the goals of the zone than a 40,000 square-foot building would be, and if the Y doesn’t get built here then there’s still a chance that can happen.

Q: Where do you think a Y should be built?

A: I personally feel that the location adjacent to Stotzky Park is ideal. It provides an opportunity for future growth of the YMCA and the greatest access to all people, especially those that need the support of the YMCA’s services. The social issues in Riverhead will never be addressed if we do not build a better system of engaging our children as they grow. And teens need to be able to access the Y on their own. Can you really imagine teens on bikes on Main Road trying to get there independently? Besides, a downtown YMCA could help transform downtown Riverhead and revitalize the retail there, just as it did in Bay Shore. The YMCA’s Fritz Trinklein made a statement to that effect in the News-Review in 2009 and I definitely agree with him on that.

Q: Why do you think there’s more uproar over this Y than the Village at Jamesport, a proposed Main Road shopping center that will also need special permits from the Town Board?

A: There isn’t. There is significant opposition to both projects but the hearings and most of the activity on the Village at Jamesport project happened years ago and so it’s not fresh in everyone’s minds like this is. This proposed location for a YMCA is clearly inappropriate and does not conform to what’s allowed in RB-80 and so it is receiving quick opposition.

This is clearly another one of attorney Pete Danowski’s many attempts to subvert our Master Plan and zoning on behalf of one of his clients by playing semantics. He recently successfully petitioned the town to defy logic and say that wine tasting was a customary accessory to a craft store so that a new business on Main Road in Aquebogue can serve wine, and I think people are getting tired of it.

On the other hand, though the opposition to the Village at Jamesport has been going on for at least eight years, it’s not as clear-cut an issue. Village at Jamesport is looking for a special permit for uses that are actually allowed in the Rural Corridor Zoning, and opposition is based on the fact that this parcel has a different building allowance than what rural corridor allows for.

Q: Is there anything the Y can do to work with local residents who oppose this location for the project to get a facility built there?

A: No. The zoning does not support the use. Period. A special permit cannot be based on accessory uses. YMCAs are primarily recreational sports facilities, and this one may have educational pre-K classes as an accessory use but that doesn’t actually qualify it for a special permit. In fact, the Y offers many programs that are not allowable in RB-80 zoning, which would disqualify it for a special permit. Additionally, the zoning on the parcel does not support any possible future expansion for outdoor sports/an aquatic center as the Y claims it wants to do. The initial building phase (the indoor pool and facility) would use up all the lot coverage the Y allowed. This location makes no sense for the community or the YMCA, long term.

Fritz Trinklein, YMCA of Long Island, Inc., director of strategic planning

Q: One of the biggest criticisms of the YMCA is that it has never considered the heart of downtown as a possible location. Why the need for open space and camp facilities when we live in one of the most rural, open regions of Long Island? You can’t say kids around here don’t have room to run.

A: A YMCA needs outdoor space for its full compliment of programming. Summer day camp programs are key. The popular “Silver Sneakers” program for seniors (often funded by health insurance) and the “couch potato to 5K” program are examples of outside activities in a pleasant environment.

Introductory outdoor classes for youth, including soccer, golf, T-ball, volleyball and field hockey, are simplest when administered “on-site.” Personal training classes also use outdoor space for sprinting or longer distance running.

Eight acres is required to establish an optimal YMCA location. This makes a downtown location all but impossible, particularly within the Y’s $500,000 acquisition budget.

Traffic, proximity, and accessibility to the membership are other key factors for a successful YMCA. Ninety-nine percent of all participants need to be transported to the Y, regardless of where it is located. Of the approximate 40,000-person local population pool, a small segment drives through downtown on a regular basis (unlike Main Road). If a Y is located downtown, it would add new traffic to an already difficult-to-navigate area. Y members generally tend to travel up to 15-20 minutes to participate in programs. By the time a driver squirrels through downtown, many minutes are consumed driving a very short distance.

Furthermore, Y studies show less than 5 percent of YMCA members of a branch located in Riverhead would come from the downtown area, regardless of where it is located. The Y needs to be accessible to as many people as possible.

The number one expressed need by 80 percent of the entire population is an indoor swimming pool. And the remaining 20 percent virtually all agree a Y is needed. One population does not need a Y more than another.

Everyone will improve their sense of wellness by participating. Young, old; rich, poor; white, black; those in good health and those who have health struggles. Everyone.

Q: Do you have any idea about the potential traffic impacts on Main Road if the facility were to be built in Aquebogue?

A: Town Hall has recent hourly traffic studies for Main Road. The YMCA knows branch traffic. Most participants coming to a branch on Main Road would combine it with other errands, thereby not adding to traffic. Once full membership has been reached in 3 to 5 years, the Y’s preliminary analysis shows an average traffic effect of 2 to 3 percent.

Q: Opponents of the proposed location have floated other sites the Y might want to consider, namely the former North Fork/Capital One headquarters in Mattituck. Has the Y considered that property? What did it find?

A: Many sites have been suggested over the past decade. Each location introduces specific elements that have to be evaluated. Demographics play a large roll. A branch located east of Laurel would not have sufficient membership to achieve a balanced budget, which is the goal of all YMCAs on Long Island. Additionally, the priorities of those who have provided volunteer leadership and donor support need to be incorporated into the decision-making process.

The Peconic YMCA committee, which has been working tirelessly for over 15 years, has specified that the branch be located in the Town of Riverhead, accessible to all residents in the town.

Q: If this doesn’t happen in Aquebogue, does Peconic YMCA keep trying? Or does it pack its bags. I can’t imagine it has much left in its tank, frankly.

A: The Peconic YMCA committee, led by Joe Van de Wetering, has shown an incredible commitment to benefit town residents. Over these many years, each proposed location has created a reaction by a small group of local people who, although they universally agree with the benefits a YMCA would provide the community, have unfounded fears of the impact a YMCA would have on their specific neighborhood. The YMCA of Long Island has built a reputation of being good and friendly neighbors at all of its branch locations. For example, property values adjacent to a Y normally increase due to the existence of a Y.

Instead of giving up, Joe and the Peconic YMCA committee have taken extra measures to ensure the suitability of a potential location, by initially garnering the unanimous endorsement of the Town Board, the town planning department and the town attorney before pursuing it. Although some Town Board members vacillate and change their minds, the town supervisor and other consistent board members have shown strong leadership in standing by their word and endorsement.

Joe is supported by very publicly-minded, philanthropic individuals, who want to help the town become a healthier, happier place to live. In addition to the Van de Wetering family, the Entenmanns, Millers, and Goodales have committed leadership pledges of six figures or more to see this project succeed. We are motivated by the steadfastness of their support.

How long will this benevolence last? Even the most gracious people have their limits.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at (631) 298-3200, ext. 152 or mwhite@timesreview.com.

09/15/11 12:15am
09/15/2011 12:15 AM

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan took some heat last week for saying he so badly wanted to win Sunday night’s game against the Cowboys because of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. “I feel more pressure on this game for whatever reason than any game I’ve ever coached, seems like,” he had told members of the New York media.

TV and radio pundits responded by saying a football game and the senseless deaths of so many innocent people shouldn’t be mentioned — even thought about — together in the same sentence. After all, this was just a regular-season game, and Sept. 11 happened 10 years ago.

But I’ll say this: The Jets’ Sunday night come-from-behind victory really gave me and countless other Jets fans — I’m sure even some of those who lost loved ones in 9/11 – something to smile about on a day filled with sadness.

I spent the Sept. 11 anniversary at home, editing stories and photos on memorial events from across our coverage area. During a four- or five-hour chunk of that time, I watched CBS coverage of the heart-wrenching remembrances of those killed in the terror attacks as all the 9/11 victims’ names were read from two podiums at ground zero.

There were victims’ brothers and sisters, saying how backyard barbecues have never been the same in 10 years. There were the surviving mothers, vowing to join their sons or daughters one day in heaven. There were the wives, giving their lost husbands updates on their children’s lives, and trying their hardest to be strong. And then there were the kids, including teenagers and 20-somethings, most of whom struggled through tears as they spoke, while still calling their lost parent Mommy or Daddy; these are relationships frozen in time. Some of the children who spoke never even met their fathers.

But later, there was sport, that great diversion.

The Jets victory Sunday night reminded a lot of us of retired Mets catcher Mike Piazza’s Sept. 21, 2001, go-ahead home run against the Atlanta Braves. That was the first professional sports game played in New York after the terror attacks. Up until that moment, many didn’t even know if attending a game was even the right thing to do. But when Piazza hit that huge homer to left-center field, we cheered, surprising even ourselves. And it was a frenzied, cathartic cheer, both at Shea Stadium and in homes across the region.

It was prolonged, because we wanted to hold onto that unfamiliar feeling of feeling good.

In the days that followed, we were slowly able to laugh again. You want to communicate to your children the shock, anger, fear and anguish adults felt after Sept. 11? Tell them to imagine almost two weeks devoid of humor — pretty much like all of this past Sunday. That was, of course, until a combination of a goal line fumble, a blocked punt, an interception and a long field goal led to one of the most memorable come-from-behind Jets victories anyone could ever remember.

On the day spent mostly with a lump in my throat, I now grabbed a plush football and did my best John Elway impression in the living room. I dropped back and pump-faked a few times before letting the ball fly and sending my 5-month-old puppy slipping and sliding down the hardwood hallway after it.

I had lost myself.

And isn’t that what sports is all about, for the fans and athletes?

So thank you, Rex and the Jets, for taking Sunday night’s game so darn seriously. And for helping us, well, forget — if only for a moment.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 152.

04/07/11 7:12am
04/07/2011 7:12 AM

My wife is afraid of our ice machine.

As for me, I was at first very happy to even have an ice machine. Growing up in Queens, my family’s idea of a new refrigerator was to get the old one professionally painted. Even that was anticlimactic because the guy my parents hired painted our fridge the wrong color. He actually sprayed it white when he was supposed to do beige, explaining to my mom that our last name, which was written on the order ticket, threw him off. He got it right eventually. Still, I remained envious of my friends whose homes boasted ice machines.

How I yearned to be able to simply press my Batman cup against a machine of my own during breaks from Super Mario Bros. or Nintendo Ice Hockey. Instead, I had to comb through bags of peas and frozen tomato sauce just to crack open a tray of low-grade cubes, which always seemed to take on the subtle flavor of leftovers.

Refilling the ice tray was especially torturous.

Now that I have arrived, having purchased my first home in December, I can say this: Never did I imagine that this long-coveted machine would throw my life into such a tizzy.

Let me quickly note that my wife, Suzanne, is afraid of her own shadow. God forbid I get home 10 minutes early and happen to stumble upon her blow-drying her hair; one day the neighbors are going to hear her screams and call the police.

My working nights in Manhattan a few years back was also a challenge for us. Waking Suzanne at 12:45 a.m. to let her know I was home was always heart-wrenching. It was tough to see my companion of six years stare at me with a look of terror before she realized who I was. I tried different approaches, but the results were always the same. I always felt bad for her, too, considering she had just three or four hours of sleep left after each ordeal.

Now I just feel bad for me. Especially when ice levels in the house are low.

You see, when that magical ice machine, like an outer space nebula spinning dust into a newborn star, pushes that perfectly formed piece of crystal into the tray with its brothers, my wife wakes up.

The lower the ice level, the louder the clunk of ice on ice.

She’s usually not sure what woke her up, she just knows it’s something. And she’s not going back to sleep unless I walk through the house like a maniac in my boxer shorts and socks with a T-ball bat in hand.

I even have to check the unfinished basement just in case brazen burglars decide it would make sense to play some Ping-Pong in the middle of a heist that, incidentally, wouldn’t net them much unless pawn shops are now paying top dollar for antiquated computers and old Time magazines.

My wife is often fast asleep upon my return. Having no one to talk to, I usually just put the bat away and lie down with my heart pumping — because even after circling houses and apartments hundreds of times in my life with a bat or kitchen knife, there’s still a part of my brain gearing up for that long-awaited, rage-fueled encounter.

That day may come just yet.

And after I get finished with the bat, we’ll probably have to buy a new fridge.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 152.

03/02/11 3:34pm
03/02/2011 3:34 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Students at Phillips Avenue Elementary School in the Riverhead School District.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Students at Phillips Avenue Elementary School in the Riverhead School District on Long Island.

Forget trigonometry or the definition of civilization or whatever the “present perfect” is.

Here’s what a successful student really learns in school: How to manage time; how to work toward a goal, either alone or in a group; why it’s important to treat others the way you want to be treated; and ­— not the least important — how to protect yourself from destructive forces. If a student is extremely lucky, he or she also might develop some sort of passion or begin to hone a talent during those countless hours spent sitting in or shuffling between classrooms.

Extracurricular activities such as clubs and sports and the subjects usually first on the chopping block during tough economic times — art, music and technology — are just as crucial as math, English and social studies. If not more crucial. Those often-cut portions of the school budget are what really motivate potentially at-risk children (and I would venture to say most all teenagers are at risk), keep them in school and help them reach that end goal: a decent life.

Those crucial areas need to be preserved, and students and parents in the Riverhead School District should be thankful their first-year superintendent, Nancy Carney, seems to value such activities as well. Her budget, as proposed, would result in 40 positions being lost next school year, including 15 teacher spots. But that burden is being shared equally and not on the backs of sports programs, the arts or extracurricular activities. And that’s how it should remain as a final budget proposal is hammered out to be presented to voters in May.

The fact is, history, grammar and mathematics are subjects that can be learned much more effectively later in life, when one finds oneself suddenly interested in or otherwise motivated to check out that Andrew Jackson biography, buy that grammar-made-simple book or enroll in those X-ray technician courses. The stuff most of us learn in high school goes largely forgotten, but sensibility lasts forever. In reality, forcing a kid to memorize parts of a sentence — the object, predicate and whatever else — does not result in young people becoming better writers. Sentence diagrams just result in agita and, unfortunately for lots of kids, a serious dislike of English class.

I’m not condemning those so-called core classes, or saying we convert our schools to trade schools. I think a little agita is a good thing. I recognize that traditional subjects are extremely important — not just because they prepare students for state tests, the SAT and for getting accepted into that “dream college,” but because they’re tough.

And life is tough.

School, like life, can’t be all fun and games and passion. In the real world, having to sit up straight and pay attention through boring presentations doesn’t mean getting a better grade. It means the difference between advancing in a company or getting fired, or somehow letting friends and colleagues down.

Public education’s end goal must be to develop as many motivated and well-rounded Americans as possible. That’s why AP Literature and Composition is no more important than, say, the bowling team. I just hope all of our school officials feel the same as they prepare to pare down budgets over the next few years. In the meantime, state and federal elected leaders will be facing a tough task in figuring out how to get our educational system on track while making it affordable and sustainable. Simply cutting important aspects of a true education is not a real option.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 152.