05/23/15 5:59am

You may have seen them hovering over your head at public events or perhaps you saw one flying around on a television news show. Amazon even has a plan to use them to deliver packages.

All the while, government agencies have had difficulty crafting regulations to address safety and privacy concerns involving unmanned aerial drones, and have put a de-facto ban on commercial use of the devices.

Now, after nearly five years of discussion, the Federal Aviation Administration has indicated it may in fact relax rules for the use of drones, a change that’s being celebrated as long overdue by local commercial drone pilots — though it’s unknown when any new regulations might take effect.

Some Suffolk County drone pilots say they’ve grounded their fleets while the FAA finishes up the new rules, but others — like Cutchogue’s Andrew LePre — have found loopholes to keep their fledgling businesses active.

“There’s always a way to save yourself,” he said Tuesday while in New York City buying more gear for his DJI Phantom 2 quad-rotor drone.

Drones are small unmanned aerial vehicles, normally flown by remote control, that can be used for aerial photography or surveillance. The most popular kind of drone uses small rotors, similar to a helicopter’s, to hover and fly.

The U.S. military also uses more sophisticated and larger remotely piloted aircraft to track or attack suspected terrorist targets abroad; those drones are not being regulated by the FAA.

Under the proposed regulations, drones would be restricted to altitudes of less than 500 feet during daylight hours. Drones would also not be allowed near airports.

Originally, the proposal required a drone to operate within its user’s sight. But FAA chief Michael Huerta reportedly said the FAA may scrap that provision and allow pilots to fly drones beyond their line-of-sight, according to an article in Fortune magazine.

Current rules require businesses that use drones to apply for permission to fly them, which is granted by the FAA on a case-by-case basis.

• Editorial: FAA needs to act now on drone restrictions

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the most recently discussed FAA rules, made public in February, were “a lot better” than the old regulations; however, he suggested further changes, such as a requirement that all drones be programmed not to fly over sensitive airspace.

“These FAA rules are a solid first step but need a lot more refining,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “As the FAA finalizes these rules, I encourage them to strike a balance that both allows the commercial potential of drones to take flight, but also ensures near-misses with commercial aircraft and places like the White House don’t happen again.”

Mr. LePre was encouraged by the new FAA regulations, though he said many of the limits the FAA is considering are already being observed by drone pilots. The 500-foot height restriction, for example, is something he would rarely reach, he said.

His clients — mostly real estate agencies looking for aerial photographs of their listings — want shots taken 50 to 150 feet off the ground, “twice as high as the trees at most,” Mr. LePre said.

If the new regulations include line-of-sight requirements, Mr. LePre said he’ll use someone as a “spotter” to keep an eye on the drone.

Mr. LePre began using a drone about 18 months ago.

“I heard about what a drone could do,” he said. “It would be fun and make awesome video if I could get good at it.”

It took him hundreds of hours using the drone to be comfortable with it, he said. Ultimately, he started making commercial videos.

“It kind of happened by mistake,” Mr. LePre said. “It was kind of just a hobby but I didn’t know it would get to the point where it’d be good enough to sell.”

He now uses a $1,500 plastic drone for his photography and video, as well as a pair of virtual reality goggles that lets him see what the drone is seeing. Mr. LePre “doesn’t condone” those who use drones irresponsibly, but added that few pilots do, because the hobby is so complicated.

“People who can drop two grand on a toy mostly know what they’re doing,” he said.

Another local operator, who asked not to be named, said that until new FAA rules are in place, he’s keeping his drone on the ground.

“I’m just waiting on them to get their act together,” he said.

He’s been involved in the hobby of remote-controlled aircraft for more than 30 years, starting with planes and ultimately working his way toward the popular quad-copters used today.

He also said that commercial pilots haven’t been the ones violating sensitive airspace, like the recent White House incident. Instead, he said, it’s the recreational pilots — who operate with little care for the FAA’s rules — that are causing trouble.

“There’s no way the FAA is going to be able to regulate those people,” he said.

Meanwhile the Suffolk County Legislature is also considering banning the use of drones with cameras over county properties like beaches, parks and government buildings, citing security and privacy concerns.

The drone operator who asked not to be named said he’s taking no chances. Instead, he’s working to build a rover for local police to use when investigating suspicious packages. He said the Suffolk County Police Department has expressed interest in his idea.

“I’ve been concentrating on the ground,” the operator said.


05/22/15 12:00pm
This burned-out building on Kaplan Avenue will be demolished this week. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

This burned-out building on Kaplan Avenue will be demolished this week. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

The Greenport Village Board decided it just couldn’t wait anymore: the fire-damaged house on Kaplan Avenue has to come down.

The board voted Thursday night to hire a contractor to demolish the home at 415 Kaplan Avenue and clean the husk of a property, which was nearly destroyed by a fire in February(more…)

05/19/15 8:00am
(L-R) United Healthcare’s Juliette Serrano and Robert McBrien; Pat Celli, United Healthcare Community Plan of New York president; Riverhead Councilman James Wooten; Sister Margaret Smyth; Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter and Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy. (Credit: courtesy)

(L-R) United Healthcare’s Juliette Serrano and Robert McBrien; Pat Celli, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of New York president; Riverhead Councilman James Wooten; Sister Margaret Smyth, North Fork Spanish Apostolate executive director; Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter; and Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy. (Credit: courtesy)

Sister Margaret Smyth had no idea thousands of dollars of private grant money was up for grabs.

She only found out when she got a call a couple of weeks ago announcing that the sister’s organization, the North Fork Spanish Apostolate, had just won $25,000.

“You didn’t have to apply for it; they just called me up and told me we got it,” Sister Margaret said. “I was like, ‘Wow!’ ”

The United Healthcare Community Grant will be used to expand health care offerings from the Apostolate — which serves Hispanic and poor communities from Riverhead to Greenport.

The money will also be used to send children to summer camps, as well as pilot a Spanish literacy program for undereducated immigrants, Sister Margaret said. The funding matches nearly a quarter of the organization’s usual budget.

“[United Healthcare] appreciate all that goes on, so they selected us to get this,” she said. “It’s a huge amount.”

Sister Margaret’s organization was one of four chosen in New York State, said United Healthcare spokesperson Maria Gordon Shydlo.

“When I was doing research I couldn’t believe how much work she does in the community,” Ms. Shydlo said. “She’s just like a rock star.”

The North Fork Spanish Apostolate was the only local organization to be awarded a grant.

The funds set aside for health care programs will help cover co-pays for needy residents, as well as prescription medication that may otherwise be too expensive, she said. The Apostolate’s program is open to all, she added.

“Not just the Spanish community, but the [whole] community,” Sister Margaret said.

The Apostolate also sends needy children to summer camps like the 4-H camp in Baiting Hollow or to sleepaway camps. Last year, about 50 kids were given the opportunity.

“We’re looking for kids who can really use a week [at camp],” Sister Margaret said. “[We] try to expose them to more than just being home in the house all the time. And the kids love it.”

The Spanish literacy program, which would yield a certification that can help those seeking employment, will be organized through the Mexican consulate and offered in Riverhead.

“We have many people who don’t read and write their language,” she said. “They never had the opportunity to really go to school.”

Though many immigrants on the North Fork are not Mexican — most are Guatemalan or Salvadoran — a certification from the program will be recognized in countries outside of Mexico.

The Spanish Apostolate’s new grant comes after the organization moved last year to new offices at St. John the Evangelist’s Church. More than 60 volunteers help with the program, Sister Margaret said.

“I can always use more,” she said. “We continue to grow and grow and grow.”


05/15/15 10:00am

Fishermen Chuck Purificato and Chris James spent each frigid day this winter in a shed off Main Road in Southold, hunched over work tables and warmed only by their heavy coats and the kerosene heater that would spit choking smoke back into the room.

“No water, no nothing,” Mr. Purificato boasts. “All winter! And it was cold this winter, boy.”

He laughs in short, gravelly bursts.

Their goal behind the madness? To craft Long Island’s best bucktail fishing lures.

Over the decades, Mr. Purificato, 65, has run several tackle shops across Suffolk County, but the other businesses dried up. A store in Ridge was open for years, but closed in 1994. He relocated to do business in Freeport before shutting that down, too.

“Things happened,” Mr. Purificato said. “I got sick — just life in general. It’s the whole nine yards of growing up on Long Island.”

Mr. Purificato holds a new bucktail lure in his hand. The bucktails only take about a minute to make each. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Mr. Purificato holds a new bucktail lure in his hand. The bucktails only take about a minute to make each. (Credit: Paul Squire)

He worked on the side a bit, making lures for friends, and Mr. James, now 48 years old, helped as an apprentice of sorts. Now, the longtime friends have decided to give it one more go and open up another shop.

“I said to Chris, ‘Let’s make a last stand,” Mr. Purificato said. “Let’s make it happen.”

Their newest storefront in Southold, a tiny set of rooms set into an former antique shop, is that last-ditch effort.

“We did it,” Mr. Purificato jokes. “We weathered the storm.”

The pair met, unsurprisingly, while fishing. Mr. James was fishing the Shinnecock Canal when he ran into Mr. Purificato. The two began chatting and Mr. James mentioned that he’d recently purchased a set of lures called Chucks Bucks.

He had no idea that it had been Mr. Purificato who made them.

“That was it,” Mr. James said. “We exchanged numbers, starting talking. We fished every day for, like, the next year.”

Between them, the two have more than 100 years of fishing experience. They joke that they are pirates born hundreds of years too late.

“You take that knowledge and put it into this stuff? It’s a winner,” Mr. James said. “With the amount of knowledge he has, I’m always learning something new.”

“We don’t want to sit in bars,” Mr. Purificato said. “We don’t want to get in trouble. We want to go fishing!”

Mr. Purificato focuses on the task at hand: finishing another lure. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Mr. Purificato focuses on the task at hand: finishing another lure. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Two desks are set up on opposite sides of the small Southold shop. One each one are small clamps and scissors and piles of dyed deer hair. This is what they’ll use to make the bucktails and other lures. Mr. Purificato said it’s the twisting motion he uses when wrapping the hair to the lure that makes his special.

The pair like fishing for fluke, but make bucktails of all sizes.

“We make the big stuff because people need it, but we prefer the smaller stuff,” he said.

Mr. James points to the “most important” decorations on the walls.

One is a sculpture of a bald eagle head perched over the door frame, representing America. The other is an old crucifix, flanked by bucktails hanging from the wall.

Mr. Purificato is a spiritual man himself. He burns sage in an ashtray — it keeps away the evil spirits, he says — and the smoke trails up past his wall of tools.

The men admit they have a way to go to get their shop up and running. But they’ve already churned out hundreds of lures and plan to offer new ones in the future. This fall, they’ll host classes to teach local fishermen how to tie bucktails themselves.

“You’ve gotta start somewhere,” Mr. Purificato said. “We decided to start from the very bottom and build it back up again.”


05/11/15 2:15pm
(Credit: Google Maps)

(Credit: Google Maps)

Front Street in downtown Greenport is being repaved this week, starting Monday night.

Road crews will mill the road Monday, according to the village website. On Tuesday, the workers will prepare the roadway, with paving work beginning Wednesday.

The newly paved road will then be striped on Thursday night, according to the schedule.

The road work — covering the entire length of Greenport — will be completed between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. each night, village employees said. The schedule may be changed depending on the weather.


05/09/15 10:00am
A logo for the new flyboarding company coming to Greenport. (Credit: Courtesy)

A logo for the new flyboarding company coming to Greenport. (Credit: Courtesy)

For nine months, the Riverhead Town Board debated, discussed and argued over whether to allow flyboarding, a new extreme watersport involving a jetpack-like device strapped to users feet. Eventually the board kicked the sport out of Town waters and into the Peconic.

But it took two weeks for Greenport Village give the sport a green light.  (more…)

05/05/15 3:29pm
Greenport Mayor George Hubbard shakes hands with Judi Kilachand, executive director of the Friends of Hermione-LaFayette in America. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Greenport Mayor George Hubbard shakes hands with Judi Kilachand, executive director of the Friends of Hermione-LaFayette in America. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Greenport’s Tall Ships Challenge is back — and now officially bigger than ever.

Village leaders, other local politicians and businesspeople kicked off the hype for the upcoming event Tuesday afternoon, officially announcing the six ships that will dock in the village’s harbor this Fourth of July.

Among them is the Hermoine, a historical replica ship modeled after the vessel used by the Marquis de Lafayette in the Revolutionary War.

That ship, which just left France en route to America for its summer tour, is a new addition to the event. Other ships include Kalmar Nyckel, Lynx, Picton Castle, AJ Meerwald and the NRP Sangres III.

The festival will be held from July 4 through 7.

Tickets are now available online and are being offered at a discounted price until June 22.

In a press conference Tuesday, Greenport Village Mayor George Hubbard touted the benefits of the upcoming four-day festival.

“We’re real excited about the whole program,” Mr. Hubbard said. “Greenport is ideal for this kind of thing and it’s really nice to be having these ships come back and join us.”

Mr. Hubbard thanked the village’s Business Improvement District — which has committed to raising more than $100,000 for the event — as well as the Tall Ships planning committee and, specifically, former mayor David Nyce.

Mr. Hubbard said the village expects to have between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors for each day of the festival.

County Executive Steve Bellone called Greenport a model for how other downtown areas across Suffolk County can “redefine and reinvent” themselves.

“Greenport is a really important place for us,” Mr. Bellone said. “It’s a wonderful historic maritime community.”

Mr. Bellone didn’t attend the last Tall Ships event in Greenport (he later remarked that his son had just been born at the time). But this year, Mr. Bellone said he won’t miss the festival.

“I’m looking forward to bringing my kids here,” he said.

To help accommodate the flood of tourists, the Long Island Railroad has agreed to run extra trains out to Greenport. Mr. Bellone said the county is exploring other ways to increase public transit.

The event will be a chance to showcase Greenport, the “crown jewel of the East End,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

Peter Clarke, the Greenport BID president, said the organization has already raised more than $70,000 of its more than $100,000 sponsorship goal.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to promote Greenport beyond New York State,” he said.

The sponsors for the event so far include Greenport Harbor Brewing Co., WABC-TV, Eastern Long Island Hospital, Newsday and Peconic Landing. The Suffolk Times is also sponsoring the event.

“This event showcases the beauty and culture that Greenport has to offer, putting its deep maritime history on display,” said Peconic Landing CEO Robert Syron. “We welcome visitors to come see what makes living on the North Fork so distinct.”

The press conference also featured a speech from Judi Kilachand, executive director of the Friends of Hermione-LaFayette in America, a nonprofit group that constructed the replica.

Ms. Kilachand said Greenport was a “beautiful” location to host the Hermione, symbolically reaffirming a “longtime friendship between France and the United States.”


05/05/15 10:00am
Howard Dean, seen here in an undated photo, will be speaking at Peconic Landing later this week. (Credit: Courtesy Peconic Landing, Mona T. Brooks)

Howard Dean, seen here in an undated photo, will be speaking at Peconic Landing later this week. (Credit: Courtesy Peconic Landing, Mona T. Brooks)

Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, Democratic National Committee chair and 2004 presidential candidate, will host a question and answer session at Peconic Landing next week devoted to the Millennial generation and its effects on the world.

The nonpartisan talk — called “How Our Grandchildren’s Generation is Changing Everything” — will be held Friday May 15 at the Peconic Landing Community Center in Greenport, starting at 8 p.m.

Tickets to the event are free but registration (available online) is required since space is limited. (more…)