01/01/11 8:01am
01/01/2011 8:01 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The flooding on Horton Avenue during the rainstorm in March.

Last March, days after a major storm flooded the streets of Horton and Osborn avenues in Riverhead, at least a half dozen homes were still a foot under water, waterlogged cars sat in driveways and the area took on the smell of a stagnant bay in August.
Eight months later, at least a half dozen families are still displaced and are coming to accept that they will likely never return to their homes.

The flooding of Horton Avenue brought to light how efforts to protect the low-lying neighborhood ­— which included moving 27 homes to higher ground about 30 years ago — have fallen short.

Making matters worse, many of the victims in the working class neighborhood live on fixed incomes and did not have flood insurance. Flood victim and social worker Linda Hobson took on the role of community activist and advocate, helping her neighbors get back on their feet when she herself was still displaced. Ms. Hobson has been pushing elected officials to come up with a long-term solution to the problem of persistent flooding in the area.

Riverhead Town and Suffolk County have submitted a joint application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to purchase the properties and turn the area into swampland. In the meantime, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is in talks with Long Island Home Builders Care, the charitable branch of the Long Island Builders Institute, to provide at least five affordable homes on county-owned land.

But the disaster spurred an outpouring from Riverhead residents, young and old. The community rallied around the flood victims, donating money and supplies. Riverhead High School junior Drew Achillich raised more than $4,000 selling Horton Avenue T-shirts, Riverhead Toyota owner Ted Lucki provided a new car for one victim at well below market value and the Melville-based engineering firm H2M donated $25,000 to the flood fund. Still, more help is needed.

12/31/10 8:00am
12/31/2010 8:00 AM

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

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

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

But in the end, neither deal happened.

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

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

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

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

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

tgannon@timesreview.com

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12/28/10 8:01am
12/28/2010 8:01 AM

JENNETT MERIDEN RUSSELL PHOTO | Mary Langhorn of Riverhead at a ceremony on Monday dedicating the Riverhead Post Office in honor of her son, Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn, a Medal of Honor recipient. The portrait of him is by artist Gerald Slater of New York City will hang in the Riverhead Post Office.

When an enemy hand grenade landed in the middle of his platoon, U.S. Army Private First Class Garfield M. Langhorn did not hesitate: The young man threw himself on the explosive device and sacrificed his own life to protect the lives of his fellow infantryman.

That heroic incident occurred more than four decades ago, and yet the quiet young man from Riverhead who gave up his life during the Vietnam War remains a legend among locals.

Some 500 people, including dignitaries, relatives, veterans and inspired residents, attended a September ceremony dedicating the Riverhead post office in honor of Pfc. Langhorn, a Medal of Honor recipient. The 20-year-old Riverhead native was killed in Vietnam in 1969.

Vietnam veteran Bob Elrose, who was at the event, called Pfc. Langhorn “the greatest hero to ever come out of Riverhead.” Gerald Slater of New York City painted a portrait of the young hero that now hangs in the post office. And Congressman Tim Bishop presented Pfc. Langhorn’s mother, Mary Langhorn, 86, of Riverhead, with a copy of the legislation bearing the signature of President Obama, as well as the pen Mr. Obama used to sign the legislation.

Pfc. Langhorn, who loved working on his car, playing guitar and being a part of his church, was remembered by many as a good Christian who regularly read the Bible and had a heart of gold.

According to a witness account, Pfc. Langhorn was standing between his platoon leader and wounded soldiers during an attack. Suddenly a ripping sound came out of the woods and a hand grenade landed next to him and the wounded.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Pfc. Langhorn threw his body onto the live explosive.

He was killed instantly.

Outside the post office, Ms. Langhorn said her son had not wanted to go to Vietnam but dutifully went into battle.
“If he were here, he would say, ‘I did what I had to do,’ ” she said.

12/27/10 8:00am
12/27/2010 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Town board members Jodi Giglio (left) and George Gabrielsen before voting on the final budget.

In November 2009, when the then-Riverhead Town Board was developing the budget for 2010, it appeared at one point that taxes could rise as much as 18 percent. The budget presented by then-Supervisor Phil Cardinale, who was defeated by Republican Sean Walter in the November elections, didn’t include $950,000 for dispatchers, an expense town voters opted to keep in a special referendum. There also was question about whether $3 million acquired from Riverhead Resorts, which was in contract to buy land from the town, could be used to offset taxes in the general fund, as Mr. Cardinale had proposed.

But as the board was nearing the Nov. 20 deadline by which a budget had to be adopted, board members decided to raid their reserves to the tune of $4.7 million to offset the potentially large tax increase. The adopted budget called for a tax rate increase of just 3.7 percent.

Problem solved, right?

Not according to Town Supervisor Walter, who took office in January. He spoke of a reoccurring deficit in the town budget that resulted from the use of one-shot revenues to lower taxes. He said the problem went back several years, and that the town couldn’t continue to expect these revenues to be available. It had to reduce its spending, he said. The 2010 budget also contained about $800,000 in unrealistic revenues, such as the sale of a town budget and a lawsuit settlement, neither of which happened.

When Mr. Walter unveiled his proposed 2011 budget in October, he called for a reduction in town spending, the abolition of six full-time and seven part-time jobs, and a 4.3 percent tax rate increase.

“This is a vital step in our attempt to get government to live within its means,” he said.

It wasn’t popular with the employees union, which had rejected Mr. Walter’s request for a 5 percent pay cut. And it wasn’t even popular with his fellow Town Board members. Two council members wanted the budget cut further and the other two wanted to restore the positions slated for abolition.

In the end, there wasn’t a three-vote majority for any changes, and Mr. Walter’s budget became the adopted budget by default. And 12 of the 13 positions were eliminated, with Mr. Walter saving one of them by cutting a position from his own office.

12/26/10 8:01am
12/26/2010 8:01 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The crowd at last year's Blues and Music Festival.

For a few weeks this year it looked as if Riverhead’s popular Blues and Music Festival might not happen because the town couldn’t decide who should run it.

The trouble started last spring, when Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, for which the festival is the main annual fundraiser, and the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce both filed permit applications with the town for permission to host the downtown event.
The chamber’s bid to run the festival came with the financial support of the downtown Business Improvement District, a local business taxing agency, and the political support of Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

The BID had run the festival from its inception in 1999 until 2005, but lost a lot of money on it in 2005. It never charged admission for the event. In 2006, Vail-Leavitt stepped up to take over the operation. It charged an admission fee and has done so ever since.

Debate about the propriety of an admission fee, tension between Vail-Leavitt officials and local vendors and rumors about financial misappropriations all helped fuel BID’s second thoughts about having let go of the event — and the plan to have the chamber try running it. But Vail-Leavitt’s board of directors had no intention of letting go.

To help break the stalemate, BID offered to give Vail-Leavitt $30,000 from its budget to offset any loss of revenues it would have made running the festival. Vail-Leavitt rejected the offer and threatened to sue the chamber and others over copyright infringement. Meanwhile, the July 17-18 festival date was approaching. In a peace deal brokered at Town Hall, the chamber backed off and Vail-Leavitt got its permit to run the event.

Later, Bob Barta, president of the Vail-Leavitt board, said the confusion over who would run the festival had made it difficult to book performers and attract vendors. He said Vail-Leavitt had made a profit on the festival this year, but it was much smaller than in other years. He acknowledged that very hot weather also had played a role in the lower attendance.

Mr. Barta has since told the News-Review that the organization has begun looking at other venues for the 2011 festival, just in case the powers-that-be in Riverhead once again try to take control.

So stay tuned.

12/25/10 8:01am
12/25/2010 8:01 AM

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Maysonet

Two former Riverhead High School football stars, Malcolm Cater and Miguel Maysonet, saw their college careers take dramatically divergent paths in 2010.

Cater, a freshman middle linebacker for Syracuse University, was immediately thrown off the team following his arrest on Dec. 11 in connection with three burglaries on the campus. He was charged with three counts of burglary and one count of grand larceny, all felonies, as well as two misdemeanor counts of petit larceny, according to The Associated Press. He was arraigned and was being held in the Justice Center Jail with bail set at $150,000 or a $300,000 bond, syracuse.com reported. The 6-foot-1, 212-pound Cater was second on the depth chart behind senior middle linebacker Derrell Smith, and appeared headed for a starting position next season. Cater played in 12 games for the Orange, made 13 tackles — nine unassisted — and recorded one sack.

Maysonet, meanwhile, enjoyed a splendid sophomore season at Stony Brook University, the school he transferred to after Hofstra University dropped its football program. The running back ran for 1,128 yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Twelve of his touchdowns came on runs, and another two on receptions. He was named to the Big South’s all-conference first team. “I’m having a great time,” Maysonet said. “I’m doing good. I’m doing whatever helps the team out.”

12/24/10 8:02am
12/24/2010 8:02 AM

JOHN FRIFFIN FILE PHOTO | Steve LoBasso of Eastport's 1956 Ford Sunliner has a tiger in its tank.

A combination of factors led to a nice shot in the arm for downtown Riverhead that came in the form of an impromptu “cruise night” gathering of classic cars every Thursday along the riverfront. Hundreds of car owners and onlookers packed the parking lot each week during the warmer months.

The gathering had been taking place for years in the King Kullen shopping center parking lot in Wading River, but the group was asked to vacate the strip mall there just days after a feature story appeared in the News-Review. Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter then invited the car lovers to downtown Riverhead. They obliged, and the event grew from there. The revelers were even treated one night to a pop standards cover band concert courtesy of the Riverhead Business Improvement District Management Association.

BID president Ray Pickersgill said the event now draws upward of 300 people on a good night. In contrast, organizers said the event only attracted about 100 people when it was held in Wading River.

What has been good for local car lovers has certainly been great for downtown business. Many of those in attendance said they picked up a slice from Julia’s Pizzeria on East Main Street or planned to visit Digger O’Dell’s after the event.

“It’s people who have disposable money and that’s great,” Mr. Pickersgill said. “Out of all the things we’ve done downtown, cruise night has been one of our most successful.”

The event has been put on hold for the winter.

Town officials and downtown area business owners are hoping Riverhead Cruise Night will return to the riverfront in 2011. Indications are that it will.