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12/16/10 7:06am
12/16/2010 7:06 AM

VERA CHINESE FILE PHOTO | FEMA officials tour Horton Avenue to view the aftermath of the March storm.

Linda Hobson has been staying in a mobile home after her life was tossed upside down — her home and belongings were destroyed during a monster rainstorm in late March that flooded her street, Horton Avenue in Riverhead.

The house of her neighbor, Ivory Brown, was nearly burned to the ground after a fire started, presumably by squatters, in the vacant and flood-damaged structure in October. And several other families are realizing that returning to their beloved neighborhood might never be an option.

Ms. Hobson, Ms. Brown and the remaining displaced residents of Horton and Osborn avenues will have to wait until spring to know whether financial help from the federal government is on the way. But in the meantime, the News-Review has learned that Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is in talks with Long Island Home Builders Care Inc. (LIHBC), the charitable branch of Long Island Builders Institute, to build at least five low-cost homes — preferably on county-owned land — for flood victims.  County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) has also introduced a resolution in the legislature that, if adopted, would put those affected by the flood and other natural disasters at the top of the list for the county’s affordable housing program.

“So far, they have been quite receptive,” Mr. Levy said of the nonprofit group. “We hope to assist these people in their time of trouble.”

LIHBC is currently building four affordable homes for returning veterans on donated land in Brookhaven Town. The homes will be constructed using low-cost and volunteer labor. The houses will be sold to returning vets at a price well below market value, according to Lois Fricke, the director of development for LIHBC.

“We’re hoping to be able to do the same [for flood victims] depending on what money is available,” she said, adding that her group will likely meet with county officials after New Year’s Day.

Mr. Levy said the county could use land that has been seized for failure to pay taxes. The land would preferably be in the Riverhead area, he added.

Earlier this year, Riverhead Town and Suffolk County submitted a joint application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking a $3.6 million competitive grant to prevent such a flood from happening in the future. That money would be used to purchase properties in the low-lying, flood-prone area to convert the parcels into swampland.

Mr. Levy and town officials have said town and county officials will not know until April if the flood victims and the municipalities will receive assistance.

Mr. Romaine, who has met with Ms. Hobson and other victims several time since the flood, noted that the county and town have been denied FEMA assistance during an earlier round of grants, which is why he is looking toward affordable housing for victims.

“If you’re waiting for the grant, what happens when that money doesn’t come through,” he said.

Ms. Hobson, a flood victim turned community activist, said she remains hopeful that FEMA funds will come through, but agreed with Mr. Romaine that looking to other options is imperative.

“We’re not sure if we can put all of our eggs in that one basket,” she said.

Ms. Hobson stressed the importance of all levels of government working together to find a solution.

Though government financial assistance is still uncertain, Ms. Hobson has helped raise thousands of dollars and secure emergency housing, clothing and household items for her fellow victims since the flood.

“I think on a personal level, this incident has caused me to grow. Certainly to become a better community advocate,” she said. “It has caused me to embrace my neighbors. We have continued to maintain contact. We continue to meet every couple of weeks.

We continue to meet the needs of the people. That’s been my goal.”

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11/25/10 2:35am
11/25/2010 2:35 AM

Target, P.C. Richard and Son and the Tanger Outlets all voluntarily close Thanksgiving, and if County Executive Steve Levy has his way, all other major retailers in Suffolk will be required to do the same.

Mr. Levy has proposed legislation requiring stores larger than 7,500 square feet to be closed from noon to 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, starting next year.  The law would not apply to food and entertainment businesses.

“Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday that is uniquely distinguished as a family day,” Mr. Levy said in a press release. “Certain stores do not recognize some employees’ need to take time off from work, so this legislation is designed to help preserve an aspect of Thanksgiving that makes it such a special, bonding occasion.”

The bill calls for fines for violations of up to $1,500.

Greg Richard, the president of P.C. Richard & Son called the proposed legislation, “a wonderful thing.”

None of the company’s 65 electronics and appliance showrooms has ever opened its doors on Thanksgiving, Mr. Richard said. Since 1995 the company has run pre-holiday ads explaining why.

“There are certain things that are more important than money and one of them is family values,” Mr. Richard said. “Retailers who choose to open show no respect for their employees and families, and are in total disrespect of family values. You wonder if the executives of those large companies are working on Thanksgiving. More likely they’re sitting home enjoying time with their families while their employees are working.”

Wal-Mart stores are among those open on Thanksgiving. Company spokesman Phil Serghini said he could not comment on the Levy bill because it involves businesses other than Wal-Mart.

County Legislator Ed Romaine, who doesn’t often agree with Mr. Levy, supports this bill.

“It’s absolutely fantastic,” the legislator said. “We could not agree more. We should respect national and religious holidays  to allow people to have a day off and enjoy the holiday with their families.”

11/18/10 2:53pm
11/18/2010 2:53 PM

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | he Suffolk County Legislature voted Tuesday to override the bulk of County Executive Steve Levy’s vetoes to its 2011 budget.

Suffolk County residents will pay more to use county parks next year, but county property taxes will hold the line in 2011 for the seventh consecutive year.

By a vote of 12 to 5 — Legislator Jon Cooper was out with a burst appendix ­— the Suffolk County Legislature voted Tuesday to override the bulk of County Executive Steve Levy’s vetoes to its spending plan, restoring about $800,000 to the county through park fee increases and pushing the police academy’s start date, which is a six month program, from March to September.

Those in favor of the delay said it will allow for more police officers to be available upon graduation right before the summer months, when crime increases.
But the Legislature failed to override Mr. Levy’s veto to fund the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank. The nursing home costs the county about $4 million a year, officials said.

“While I didn’t get 100 percent of what I wanted, I maintained my tax freeze and won the two-decades-old battle to get the county out of the nursing home business, thereby saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over the next several years,” Mr. Levy said.

He also said he is “perplexed and disappointed” by the delay in police hiring because the Legislature has called for it “so many times over the last year.”

Legislator Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham), whose failed motion to allow legislators to vote on each portion of the omnibus spending plan separately instead of as a one-lump sum, said this was the first budget he voted against since his time as a county lawmaker.

“I wasn’t going to be bullied into voting for things that I felt were wrong,” he said, adding he opposed increasing park fees and delaying police training.

Through the Legislature’s approval, Mr. Levy’s proposed $2.7 billion spending plan still includes $12 million in projected revenue for the sale of county-owned land, which is an industrial-zoned 95-acre section on which part of the controversial Legacy Village project in Yaphank would be built.

Last month, county legislators Kate Browning (WR-Shirley) and Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) protested the projected revenue and called it “phantom revenue,” but Mr. Levy maintained that if the entire Legacy Village project were to be held up by August 2011, the county would be allowed to move forward on the sale of the 95-acre industrial component of the 255-acre proposal.

The Legislature also approved Tuesday — by a vote of 13 to 4 — the final scope for the draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, which is a $450,000 procedural move that, once completed, would allow the county to declare the land as surplus, making it eligible for sale.

“I don’t believe the plan is going to move forward and that money will end up being the responsibility of the taxpayers,” said Ms. Browning, who voted against the bill.

“If the land doesn’t sell, then we’ll revisit the budget next year,” she said.

Mr. Romaine said he’s committed to revisit the budget—particularly to reverse the park fee hikes.

“In these tough economic times, raising park fees is counter-intuitive,” Mr. Romaine said. “Stay-cations are on the rise. We need to create a climate that is hospitable to this type of recreation and not attempt to balance the budget on the backs of parkgoers.”

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11/02/10 7:54pm
11/02/2010 7:54 PM

TIM GANNON PHOTO Suffolk County has reached an agreement to purchase the bulk of the 311-acre North Fork Preserve property in Northville and preserve the land as open space.

Suffolk County has reached an agreement to purchase the bulk of the 311-acre North Fork Preserve property in Northville and preserve the land as open space.

But first, Riverhead Town must agree to pay 10 percent of the cost on a 90-acre portion of the land that will be used for active recreation, according to County Executive Steve Levy.

“This would be a major addition to our open space program,” Mr. Levy said in an interview Monday.

The property is divided into two parcels, a 172-acre parcel to the north and a 139-acre parcel to the south. Myron Kaplan and the estate of Robert Krudop own the southern piece and also are the majority shareholders in the northern piece.

Mr. Levy said that a 90-acre section of the 311 acres would be set aside for active recreation, such as tennis, while the rest of the land would be preserved as open space.

Mr. Levy said town approval is the last piece needed for the acquisition to move forward.

He said the property owners have signed a letter of intent to sell the land, but have not signed a contract.

Supervisor Sean Walter said the Town Board has not decided whether or not to put up the money, which he said would amount to about $500,000.

“The town has very little open space money left,” Mr. Walter said at last Thursday’s Town Board work session. “[But] if we don’t do it, we’re never getting this preserved.”

The 311 acres would make it one of the largest open space acquisitions in the county, said Mr. Levy. He estimated there is only about 18,000 acres of land in Suffolk County left in which the owners are willing to preserve as open space.

The county executive said that because the deal is not yet in contract, he cannot disclose sales prices.

Part of the North Fork Preserve was used for years as a private hunting club.

Mr. Levy’s office said it’s “not likely” that hunting would be permitted on the land if acquired by the county.

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10/31/10 7:58pm
10/31/2010 7:58 PM

Where could new sewers be built in Suffolk County? How much would they cost? And, perhaps most importantly, where would the money come from?

Those were among several questions pondered by environmentalists, economic development agencies and elected officials at Suffolk County’s second so-called “sewer summit” at Suffolk Community College last Thursday.

County Executive Steve Levy, who hosted the summit, told a crowd of 120 that sewers improve water quality and boost economic development. “We want to get the word out that sewer is not a dirty word,” Mr. Levy said.

He wants to preserve the “treasured” undeveloped land in Suffolk, Mr. Levy said, but also expand current sewer districts.

“We want to improve our environment and provide for and promote properly-planned development that will help us move into the next century,” he said.

Since the first sewer summit in 2008, Suffolk County has dedicated $5.6 million to study the effects of potential sewers in 22 communities, including Riverside and Flanders, as well as Rocky Point.

One thing the studies are all finding: sewage isn’t cheap, at least the processing of it. A new sewage treatment plant at any of the studied communities would cost about $50 million.

Tom Isles, director of the Suffolk County Department of Planning, presented some ideas to help pay for the projects. For example, the county could use tax revenue from development projects to pay bonds issued to fund infrastructure, he said, or create an infrastructure bank.

The Southwest Sewer District, a pocket of the county with a high number of sewers, was funded through government subsidies which are no longer available.

David Calone, chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, recognized that some balk at the cost of building more sewers, but said “failing to protect the quality of our drinking water would be far more costly.”

Mr. Levy emphasized the need for everyone in the county to get on the same page in a collaborative, cooperative effort.

Currently, one-third of Suffolk County is sewered with 184 sewage treatment plants and 23 more in the planning stage.

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