04/15/14 9:00am
AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | For the second time in less than two weeks, the North Ferry line stretched down Wiggins Street in Greenport for blocks.

The North Ferry line down Wiggins Street in Greenport. (Credit: Ambrose Clancy, file)

With only six weeks before Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer season, Greenport Village Mayor David Nyce has been speaking with North Ferry General Manager Bridg Hunt about rerouting ferry lines on the village side.

But don’t expect any major change to take place by the holiday weekend, the mayor said.


01/28/14 11:00am

FILE PHOTO | Drill rigs rusting at Crescent Beach last Autumn during botched efforts to run an electric cable between the North Fork and the Island.

There’s no start date and there might not even be a plan.

The LIPA cable project that ground to a halt after months of missed deadlines, botched work, cost overruns and cheery reports that all was well, is now in the hands of the new power provider, PSEG.

A PSEG spokesman on Monday said he’s not free to discuss in detail the status of the project.

Jeffrey Weir, the director of communications for PSEG, told a Times/Review reporter that PSEG has been evaluating the situation that resulted in the Long Island Power Authority firing its contractor, Bortech, last fall after failure to be able to resolve an equipment breakdown that left the project in limbo.

PSEG took over LIPA on Jan. 1 and received a Jan. 10 letter from Shelter Island Town Supervior Jim Dougherty asking that the project to replace cables damaged during Superstorm Sandy be given a high priority. Previously, town officials had been told plans were in place to return generators to Shelter Island this spring to ensure that, if the remaining cable become inoperable, there would still be electric power.

Mr. Weir said he couldn’t comment further about the plans for the generators being returned to the Island.

“I’m not entirely certain what all progress has been made,” Mr. Weir said. “It’s a complicated situation and they’re working it through,” he said, referring to PSEG officials. “Our main concern is making sure the residents of Shelter Island have reliable and safe power and so whatever it takes to make that happen, we’ll do that.”

While Shelter Islanders have had to worry about sustaining power since the project got under way last spring, residents on both sides of the Harbor have been disturbed by noise and dirt associated with the project that initially was supposed to be completed by Memorial Day last May. Continued problems led to constant delays and just when it finally appeared that completion was in sight at the end of August, a piece of drilling rig broke just 500 feet short of the Greenport side.

By October, LIPA fired Bortech. But word was a new contractor would be hired with work due to begin again in January. LIPA said the delay was, at least in part, linked to the PSEG takeover of operations in January.

Then in December, Mr. Dougherty announced that he had been told by LIPA officials — still in charge until PSEG took over operations January 1 — that no work would begin for months, but that generators would be returned to Shelter Island this spring.

Mr. Dougherty said then he wanted assurances the project would be completed by April 30.


12/11/13 9:00am


While many are turning their attention to completing Christmas shopping in time, there’s another December deadline that looms that has the potential to affect many North Fork homeowners.

A new law requires homeowners re-register for the Basic School Tax Relief exemption by December 31.

Of the town’s eligible residents, 77 percent have re-registered, according to state statistics. But 1,062 homes have yet to apply, the records show.

The easiest way to re-register for a Basic STAR exemption is to file on the Tax Department’s website.

You will need your STAR code to re-register (check your mail from weeks back). If you don’t have the code, you can get it online or by calling the Tax Department at 518-457-2036. You may also call that number to re-register if you prefer not to do so online.

In re-registering, you should have Social Security numbers available for all owners and spouse

The state Department of Taxation and Finance won’t be notifying local assessors about those who have failed to re-register until February 2014, meaning it will be too late to get the exemption for next year.

The reason for the re-filings is a new state law aimed at eliminating fraud, state officials have said. Whether purposely or accidentally, people throughout New York who own multiple homes had registered for multiple STAR exemptions.

But that’s not allowed under the law. A homeowner has to prove primary residence by such documents as vehicle and voter registrations, and it’s up to the local assessor to make a judgment on eligibility.

To be eligible for the Basic STAR exemption, a household must have earned $500,000 or less.

There is no age requirement.

If you have never filed for a STAR exemption and believe you are eligible, you won’t be affected by the re-registration process, but you will need to file a Form RP-425, also available online.

Those 65 or older who receive Enhanced STAR exemptions aren’t required to re-register. Their eligibility is based on age and an annual income of $81,900 or less.

Throughout Long Island, there are 31 percent, or 175,092, who have failed to file, state officials said.


11/24/13 10:00am

AMBROSE CLANCY FILE PHOTO | This East End backyard, which once had views of wetlands and berry bushes, is now overun by mile-a-minute vine.

No one is declaring victory just yet, but the man-versus-nature war on what has come to be known as the mile-a-minute vine has been joined. The invasive vine has a predator, experts have found, and it comes in the form of the stem-boring black weevil.

Although he’s taking a cautiously optimistic approach, Cornell Cooperative Extension scientist Dr. Andy Senesac says there’s reason to hope that over the course of several years, the plant could be eradicated

“We’re encouraged, but we can’t be throwing any parades as far as success,” he said.

COURTESY PHOTO | Weevil damage to a mile-a-minute vine leaf.

For the past two years, CCE scientists have been running test programs using the weevil on the North and South forks. The protocol for releasing the weevil was developed by a professor at the University of Delaware and the weevils are being distributed without cost by the Phillip Alampi Beneficial Insects Laboratory in Trenton, N.J., where they are being raised.

While the weevils may not be as prolific as their prey, early tests are promising that the insects will steadily eat away the invasive species and eventually wipe it out without damaging other plants that grow alongside it.

The hope is that as mile-a-minute dies off, the weevils themselves will also die off, Dr. Senesac said.

Persicaria perfoliata, as mile-a-minute is properly know, grows up to six inches a day when conditions are right. Also known as “the kudzu of the north,” it easily overmatches native species. It blocks other plants from sunlight, stopping their ability to photosynthesize, which will eventually kill them. Mile-a-minute devastates the natural ecology on a wide scale, stopping the regeneration of forests and woods and doing damage to a community’s economy.

And being an annual, with a generous amount of seeds, it’s a recurring nightmare for homeowners, gardeners and farmers.

“If you look around now, you might think, ‘Oh, it all died. But it’s not over; it will be back the next year,” said Roxanne Zimmer of Peconic, a volunteer at Cornell. “Because it’s an annual, all those beautiful blue berries will seed and reseed. And, of course, the birds and insects will carry it around as well. It doesn’t really poke its head up until June or July. And July is when you start to notice it again.”

CORNELL COOPERATIVE EXTENSION COURTESY PHOTO | Researchers plan to continue to release more weevils in vine-infested sites on the East End in 2014. The program has been in practice for eight years in Delaware, New Jersey and other states, and in that time the weevil has been observed to feed only on the weed and no other plants.

Ms. Zimmer said the vine has a unique feature that she described as a “curved barb that allows it to grab.”

“That’s what makes it so vicious,” Ms. Zimmer said. “It can hook onto a limb or tree and then the next barb will hook on and then it just continues to grow up and out.”

According to research compiled by the University of Delaware, mile-a-minute is an Asian vine introduced to the United States in the mid-1930s at a nursery in Pennsylvania, where it was mixed with holly seeds imported from Japan. Deceptively beautiful, not only for its vibrant green color, its leaves are delicate triangles, almost heart-shaped, and its berries, when ripe, are bluish-purple. The vine has now made its home in 12 mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, extending west to Ohio, south to the Carolinas and north to Massachusetts.

But designing and managing programs to put the weevil to work is no easy process, Dr. Senesac said.

For the dozen states experimenting with weevils, there’s a two-step approval process. It starts with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Once a permit is received from APHIS, those in New York have to apply to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to deploy the weevils. The entire process takes about six months, Dr. Senesac said.

He generally begins the application process in October with the aim of deploying the tiny critters, which are twice the size of the head of a pin, in test areas in late April or May.

In the two years that test programs have been operated, there’s a positive indication that the weevils move beyond the point where they are originally deployed. There has also been some evidence of weevils arriving on Long Island on their own from other locations, Dr. Senesac said.

He cautioned that people whose property is overrun with mile-a-minute not pull it out at the roots at this time of year. It will die out during the winter, and early next spring would be the best time for property owners to destroy new plants, pulling them out at their roots, before they’re able to take hold.

Cornell Cooperative Extension has plans to get information to residents in early spring about how to identify the weed.

Dan Fokine, a volunteer organizer for Shelter Island Vine Busters, an awareness group, said mile-a-minute is relatively new to that island and the East End. He first saw it a couple of years ago.

“Once it hit the ground it really took off,” Mr. Fokine said.

If a neighbor has mile-a-minute, that neighbor should be approached about removing it, he advised.

He compared rooting out the vine with fighting terrorism. “You have to take the fight to it,” he said, “You just can’t fight them on your own turf.”


With Michael White

11/01/13 4:00pm

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Ferry traffic mix up merging illegally at Third and Wiggins Street in Greenport in August.

Those hoping for relief from congestion and confusion that sometimes plagues drivers at North Ferry’s Greenport terminal, it’s not coming anytime soon.

But the problem of merging traffic correctly entering the line from Wiggins Street and illegally trying to join the line from Third Street is not being ignored.

North Ferry general manager Bridg Hunt said this week he’s optimistic about a meeting he and Julie Ben-Susan attended with Greenport Village officials and the Southold Transportation Committee to discuss rerouting ferry traffic.

“It was a very productive meeting” at which there were a lot of “really creative and positive suggestions,” Mr. Hunt said. “I would like to do something to improve the flow of traffic and I think we really have a good starting point,” he said.

What’s being talked about is rerouting all ferry traffic down Fourth Street in Greenport and running two or three ferry lines across property belonging to the Metropolitan Transit Authority in front of the Rail Road Museum, according to Greenport Trustee George Hubbard. He said he thinks ferry traffic could be staged into three lines similar to the multi-line approach used by Cross Sound Ferry in Orient.

But before that happens, Greenport would have to gain permission from the MTA. That step is in the hands of Greenport Mayor David Nyce who is currently on vacation and unavailable for comment.

In the past, Mr. Hubbard and Trustee Mary Bess Phillips have raised questions about the cost Greenport bears in terms of its roads being used and, in season, sometimes clogged by ferry traffic. North Ferry has also provided personnel to help direct traffic at the hub on Third Street. The area is shared by North Ferry, the Long Island Rail Road and Rail Road Museum and the East End Seaport Museum. Just south of the railroad tracks, but also using that hub, is the Hampton Jitney bus stop.

With the current traffic pattern, Greenport residents who live on the south side of Wiggins Street are asked not to park in front of their houses from Memorial Day to Labor Day  in order to accommodate the ferry line. Southold Police, who assist with ferry traffic when they’re notified of a major backup, don’t come down hard on those residents who fail to move their vehicles, according to Chief Martin Flatley.

Many drivers illegally access the ferry line from Third Street — some because they are unaware of the ban and others because they know the correct route, but assume they can make better time by ignoring it. The reliance on GPS systems adds to the foul ups since those systems often direct drivers down Third Street.

There are no signs at Front and Third streets to alert them they’re not supposed to access the line from there.

Mr. Hunt is skeptical about signs, saying drivers frequently don’t read them, just as they bypass the signs along Route 25 if they’re coming from the west that direct them down Sixth Street to get to Wiggins Street for ferry access.

His skepticism about posted signs is prompting a North Ferry decision on the Shelter Island side to mark roadways more clearly so drivers know where they can or can’t join the ferry line.

Just when the roadway markings will be done is not yet clear, but it will be in advance of the next summer season, Mr. Hunt said.

09/24/13 10:00am

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Bortech workers under contract by LIPA running pipe into a tunnel dug below the harbor between Crescent Beach and Greenport in August. Major work has been put on hold for a month because of project malfunctions.

With the clock ticking toward Monday, September 30, the deadline the Long Island Power Authority gave its contractor to fix the hitches that shut down a pipeline project from Greenport to Shelter Island, the question is what action the utility will take if the effort fails.

So far, no one’s talking.

“We certainly share the frustration with those residents that are affected by the project and while we understand the project does have its challenges, at some point we have to move forward and I think that’s what the deadline represents,” LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said last week.

He referred questions about a performance contract the power authority has with its contractor, Bortech, to National Grid, the utilities’ corporate partner.

But National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said no details can be released on the terms of the performance contract or exactly what might trigger action under that contract. All she would say is that the contract is designed to protect the investment in what was initially a $9 million project to provide electrical backup to Shelter Island via a transformer in Southold.

Bortech and its president, Robert Titanic, have not returned phone calls seeking comment.

Constantine Poindexter of Surety One, a Raleigh, N.C. company that issues performance bonds worldwide, said typically these bonds are a third-party guarantee that construction will be completed within an agreed-upon time frame, with a stipulated budget and that the work will meet project specifications.

Deadlines on the pipeline project, aimed at providing backup power to Shelter Island, have been moved forward on several occasions. Work stopped about a month ago when a piece of a drilling rig broke just 500 feet from the Greenport side and was stuck in the pipeline, 90 feet below the bay’s bottom.

Without specifics relating to the bond National Grid has with Bortech, it’s impossible to know just how late the project is now since starting in April, or what costs may have incurred above the original $9 million price tag.


09/10/13 4:53pm

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | LIPA contractors at work last month at Crescent Beach before all work was stopped due to a breakdown in the tunnel to Greenport.

The Long Island Power Authority has notified residents on both sides of the harbor it has accepted a plan from Bortech, its drilling contractor, that should enable completion of the project by November.

The $9 million project launched in the spring is aimed at providing backup power to Shelter Island. The Island currently depends primarily on one aging line from Greenport since a second line was damaged during Super Storm Sandy. When completed, the project will provide three cables linking Shelter Island to the Greenport substation. Another line runs between Shelter Island and North Haven to the south, but provides only limited power to the Island.

As for the time line associated with the plan, that’s still being worked out. “Should the plan be completed successfully, we expect the project to conclude prior to the start of November, with only site cleanup activities remaining,” according a press release from LIPA District Manager Todd Stebbins.

At the same time, Mr. Stebbins said nothing was written in stone: “With any project of this complexity, there is the possibility of encountering unexpected obstacles and delays.”

Last week, LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said the cleanup effort of the clay-like bentonite would take a week and work couldn’t be restarted on the pipeline project until that was completed.

There have been various explanations by LIPA of exactly what stopped the work on August 24, just as workers were close to finishing what had been a more than 24-hour process of pulling pipes through a previously constructed tunnel between Shelter Island and Southold.

Initially, LIPA vice president Nick Lizanich told Southold Town residents that a drill rig had malfunctioned. Last week, Mr. Gross elaborated, saying that a piece of the drilling rig broke just 500 feet from the Greenport side. Now Mr. Stebbins described the breakdown, saying Bortech workers had completed the initial drill hole and were in the process of expanding  the drill path to make it large enough to accommodate the required conduits for the new cable installation.

“Upon completion of the drill path on Friday, August 23, the contractor then initiated the process of pulling across the three 10-inch conduits in the established tunnel that was drilled across Peconic Bay,” the release stated.  “After making good progress late Friday into the early hours of Saturday, August 24, the conduits stopped moving and the project’s progress stalled.” The plan to get the project restarted has been vetted by an unnamed “expert consultant.”

Initially the project was said to be completed prior to Memorial Day.

It’s too early to tell how the breakdowns will affect the project’s final price tag, according to LIPA officals.


08/26/13 5:00pm

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Contractors working on the drilling rig Friday morning at Crescent Beach. The LIPA project is currently stopped.

The Long Island Power Authority and the Bortech Company — the contractors hired to work on the stopped electrical pipeline project between Southold and Shelter Island —  are meeting to determine how and when to proceed.

Work stopped abruptly Saturday and won’t begin until at least Wednesday on the $9 million project, according to LIPA.

The drilling rig guiding 4,000 feet of piping through an underwater tunnel between malfunctioned Saturday, just as the effort to complete that process was nearing an end. On Monday morning, officials from the two companies met and Bortech, a Milton, New York company, planned to spend the next two days trying to determine what to do next, according to LIPA spokesman Mark Gross.

He said he couldn’t speculate on whether the piping would have to be pulled back to the Island to fix the drilling rig mechanism or would require an alternative solution. Efforts to reach Bortech Company founder and CEO Robert Titanic were met with referrals back to LIPA.

Had the pipe-pulling process that began Friday been completed Saturday as expected, the next step would have been cleaning up terminals at both ends and then pulling electrical cables through the tunnel. That was expected to take about two weeks, according to LIPA vice president Nicholas Lizanich. At the same time, he predicted that the drilling that has disturbed neighbors on both sides of the project would come to an end and that work going forward would be much quieter as the digging equipment was removed and large reels of electric cabling were moved into place.

The project  began in the spring and has stretched through summer, even though there were periodic reports it would end first by Memorial Day, then by July 4 and finally at the end of August.

There have been glitches along the way, including drilling that twice proved inadequate before the workers were able to create a workable tunnel. Last week, there were some equipment breakdowns that delayed the process of feeding the pipes through the tunnel, Mr. Lizanich said.

Until the situation is evaluated, there’s no indication of how long this part of the project might be delayed and what that will mean to overall completion of the work.  On Friday, when all appeared to be going well, Mr. Lizanich said the job could be completed within 20 to 30 days.

Roads around the project ­— Shore Road and New York Avenue — have been reopened pending a resolution of the problem.


08/24/13 12:00pm

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | LIPA workers moving pipe into the tunnel at Crescent Beach to run under the bay bottom to Southold for a new electrical source for the Island.

If there are no unforeseen problems, the Long Island Power Authority will have completed its work and cleaned up the sites on both the Shelter Island and Southold Town sites within three to four weeks.

The reward for Shelter Islanders is that if the single existing cable breaks, they shouldn’t expect to be left in the dark. That’s what they were facing after superstorm Sandy broke a backup cable, leaving the Island with one old cable from Southold and a cable from North Haven that lacked the capability of serving all the island’s electrical needs.

There were delays and detours in the area of New York Avenue or Shore Road Friday on the island. LIPA workers started pulling pipes along the roadway and into the tunnel where they would be dragged under the bay bottom to Southold.

The process of slowly pulling the pipes through the tunnel — expected to take at least 24 hours — is the reason for the detours. Because the pipes were being pulled taut, workers were concerned that one could break and fly up causing injury to anyone going by the site.

There are also a number of cranes and other heavy machinery moving around the site.

As the crew prepared the pipes to enter the tunnel Friday morning, they used a “cradle” to lift them so the proper angle for entry could be achieved. The pipes also had to be flooded with water to keep them from rising up in the tunnel and causing friction, according to the workers.

Plans called for the pipes to be stretched through the tunnel to Southold. The next step calls for stretching the electrical cables through and connecting them at both ends and then testing to assure the current is working properly.

“Pulling of the conduit is a huge, huge milestone,” said Nick Lizanich, LIPA vice president of transmission and distribution. “They can only pull so fast.”

When that’s completed, the following couple of days will entail cleanup of terminals at both ends and then pulling electrical cables through the tunnel.

That should take about two weeks, Mr. Lizanich said. The good news for neighbors on both sides of the project is that the operation after this weekend will become much quieter and the digging equipment that has been in place will be moved out while large reels of electric cabling are moved into the area, he said.

Once all the connections are made, tested and secured, LIPA will begin the process of environmental cleanup and restoration, Mr. Lizanich said.

There have been glitches along the way, including drilling that twice proved inadequate before the workers were able to create a workable tunnel. Last week, there were some equipment breakdowns that delayed the process of feeding the pipes through the tunnel, he said.

But watching the work Friday morning it appeared to be going smoothly.

As for businesses in the area, there were detours to reach Sunset Beach, the Perlman Music Program campus, La Maison Blanche, Camp Quinipet and various residences in the area. But a few hikers and bikers found themselves faced with longer treks back to their starting lines Friday morning because of the road closings along Shore Road.


08/23/13 11:00am

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Ruth Lapin took it upon herself to direct traffic last Thursday afternoon as vehicles which properly entered the ferry line from Wiggins Street were cut off by vehicles trying to enter the line from Third Street.

Drivers familiar with how the North Ferry operates in Greenport know that the route you follow to board a ship headed for Shelter Island takes you down Wiggins Street. Even some folks who don’t know that see the signs along Main Road directing them there.

But drivers using GPS systems to find the Greenport ferry terminal are being led in a different direction, causing confusion and tension as they cut the summer lines.

It’s a situation that’s played out frequently throughout the busy season, particularly on three days when major accidents in Southampton led drivers to use Shelter Island as a shortcut to the South Fork.

“People aren’t aware of the traffic patterns down there,” Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said in an interview last month, on a day when a fatal crash on Route 39 in Southampton led to delays of more than an hour to board the ferry. “[They] went right down Third Street and cut in front of those waiting and went right on the ferry — and that doesn’t go over well.”

Last Thursday, a day that saw yet another traffic slowdown due to a crash in Southampton, drivers could be seen getting out of their cars, parked in the line down Wiggins Street, to tell drivers along Third Street to turn around and access the line the proper way.

One former area resident, Ruth Lapin, began turning back motorists in a Third Street line that stretched to as many as 20 vehicles that day. “That’s not fair,” said one man she attempted to redirect after he’d already waited more than 20 minutes on the wrong line.

On weekends, both ferry personnel and Southold police man the area at anticipated times of key traffic movement to try to keep lines moving efficiently. But when an unanticipated incident disrupts normal traffic flow, creating a ferry line backup, it’s not always possible for personnel to respond, both ferry and police officials have said. Last Wednesday, for example, there was no indication a problem would occur when trailers carrying sunfish for a regatta in the Hamptons and horses bound for the Hamptons Classic jammed the Greenport access to the Greenport ferry unannounced, causing hour-long delays, said North Ferry general manager Bridg Hunt.

Mr. Hunt and public officials contacted for this story said no clear plan is currently in the works to help solve the problem, though Greenport Mayor David Nyce said at Monday’s village work session that a meeting has been scheduled with North Ferry to discuss the situation.

Mr. Nyce told The Suffolk Times last week that a proposal to create a viable transportation hub, which has been on the table for several years, might have helped with the issue. That proposal stalled due to a lack of service to the Long Island Rail Road station in Greenport, which is adjacent to the ferry terminal.

The mayor said that plan called for redirecting ferry traffic onto Fourth Street before ultimately leading drivers down a road that would have been paved on LIRR property behind the East End Seaport Museum.

In order for that plan to be implemented, the MTA would have to agree to allow its property to be used for such a purpose, Mr. Nyce said. Then there’s the issue of who would pay for paving the road and installing new signage — expenses Mr. Nyce said the village can’t afford.

When asked about that proposal this week, Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Sal Arena said he isn’t even aware of such a plan.

Greenport trustees Mary Bess Phillips and George Hubbard told The Suffolk Times this week that they believe both the North Ferry and the Southold Town Police Department could play larger roles in helping to ease the problem by better directing traffic where the two lines often intersect.

Ms. Phillips said she believes North Ferry should be contributing money to help deal with increased ferry activity and not leave the cost of traffic control to be absorbed by taxpayers and the police department.

“And Southold police need to give Greenport a little more service than they [do],” she said.

Mr. Hubbard uses the North Ferry every day to reach his auto repair shop on Shelter Island. He echoed his colleague’s sentiment, saying the town and village are bearing the costs “for a private company that’s using public roads. [North Ferry is] supposed to be a good neighbor and sometimes it’s not.”

Mr. Hunt and Chief Flatley said there’s no easy answer to relieving congestion at the southern end of Third Street, where the ferries load and unload, and that blame shouldn’t be laid on them alone.

Mr. Hunt said there are times when his employees ask motorists trying to cut the line by entering from Third Street to turn around and go west on Front Street, then south on Sixth Street to Wiggins.

“We really are trying to help the neighborhood,” Mr. Hunt said.