Featured Story
05/23/15 5:59am
05/23/2015 5:59 AM

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.


Featured Story
05/22/15 3:00pm
Southold High School 2002 graduate Pete Castillo, owner of Castillo Scapes in Southold, donated $25,000 for Southold Elementary School's amphitheater. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

Southold High School graduate Peter Castillo (’02), owner of Castillo Scapes in Southold, donated $25,000 for Southold Elementary School’s amphitheater. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo photos)

Peter Castillo first learned to speak English as an 8-year-old at Southold Elementary School after immigrating to the U.S. from Nicaragua. That experience inspired the local business owner to help other students achieve their dreams.

To do so, Mr. Castillo donated an amphitheater — not just the money for it, he also designed and built it.

The elementary school held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday to unveil its “Magical Playscape Amphitheater,” an outdoor area where students can perform.

Mr. Castillo, a 2002 Southold High School graduate, is the owner of Castillo Scapes in Southold, a masonry construction and design company that also has a showroom at North Fork Pools in Mattituck.

Mr. Castillo said he felt honored when the school approached him a year ago about the project because he loves the district and local community. He donated $25,000 toward the amphitheater’s construction.

“I’ve lived here for almost my whole life,” he said. “I was young and didn’t know any English when I came to this school. The school helped and supported me.

“I just love this place.”

Mr. Castillo said his father first came to the U.S. in search of a better life for his family and started a landscaping company, Castillo Landscaping in Southold, which also volunteered to lay down sod around the amphitheater.

Other local businesses that donated labor and material include: Joseph Silvestro Construction in Southold,
Atlantic Fence & Gate in East Quogue, Briarcliff Landscaping and Sod in Peconic and Laurel Stone Supply Plus in Mattituck.

Mr. Castillo has dedicated the amphitheater in the memory of his friend Lucas Pasko, a Polish immigrant who was also his classmate in the school’s English as a Second Language program.

Mr. Pasko died five years ago in a tragic accident after his friend accidentally shot him with a rifle.

“I know he was impacted by the ESL program,” Mr. Castillo said. “I thought this would be perfect to dedicate it to him because he loved it here, too.”

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, students and teachers gathered in and around the amphitheater and took turns thanking Mr. Castillo for his generosity through music, dance and words.

Superintendent David Gamberg said he’s always envisioned an amphitheater at the school because he believes outdoor learning opportunities are crucial to a student’s education.

“Our appreciation is so great, it’s hard to find the right words,” he said to Mr. Castillo. “We are here to make a statement about the importance of play, about the importance of authentic learning that can not be measured on a score.”

Over the past few years, the district’s playground committee and the Southold School Educational Foundation have been working toward creating outdoor learning opportunities.

The amphitheater is located next to the school’s 7,000-square foot garden, which not only provides fresh produce for students in the cafeteria, but also acts as an outdoor classroom for science, math and literacy lessons.

In addition, there are sandboxes and art easels nearby.

The foundation is now fundraising to install an life-size chessboard outside. [For information on purchasing an engraved brick, visit www.bricksrus.com/order.ssef or www.southoldef.org]

“Having older students help younger children develop intellectual skills by playing chess is a very healthy activity,” said Judi Fouchet, the foundation’s secretary and the school board’s vice president.

Ms. Fouchet added: “It is my hope that you will use this beautiful amphitheater to create, imagine and perform for many years to come.”

The district is also planning to build a “giant Mother Goose Shoe sculpture” where students can read fairy tales to each other.

Mr. Castillo’s sister, Dina MacDonald, said she’s very proud of her brother’s accomplishments and believes the school and community’s support in providing opportunities for imagination has continued to nurture students’ success.

“This is the true meaning of the American dream,” she said.


Click on the tabs below for more photos.

05/22/15 6:00am
Earlier this year developer Nick Paleos of Nickart Realty Corp. in Baldwin said two homes going up along Route 48 near Town Beach in Southold would be finished by July. (Credit: Cyndi Murray, file)

Earlier this year developer Nick Paleos of Nickart Realty Corp. in Baldwin said two homes going up along Route 48 near Town Beach in Southold would be finished by July. (Credit: Cyndi Murray, file)

If new housing starts are an indicator of the state of the economy, as economists often claim, then Southold Town’s economy got a small boost last year.

According to statistics from the town building department, the number of permits for new residential construction jumped 25 percent in one year — from 48 in 2013 to 60 in 2014. (more…)

Featured Story
05/21/15 9:11pm
05/21/2015 9:11 PM
Mattituck/Greenport/Southold's Zach Holmes tries to advance the ball while Port Jefferson's Chandler Sciara defends. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

Mattituck/Greenport/Southold’s Zach Holmes tries to advance the ball while Port Jefferson’s Chandler Sciara defends. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)


The Mattituck/Greenport/Southold boys lacrosse team made some history on Thursday and the Tuckers hope that they’re not quite finished yet.

Not only did they host their first playoff game, but they also registered their first postseason win, a 16-8 home victory over Port Jefferson in a Suffolk County Class C Tournament semifinal.

Now, the Tuckers (11-2) find themselves headed to their first county championship game against Babylon at Stony Brook University on Wednesday. (more…)

Featured Story
05/21/15 8:47pm
Southold's players turned a team photo into a fun photo after capturing their first county championship since 2003. (Credit: Bob Liepa)

Southold’s players turned a team photo into a fun photo after capturing their first county championship since 2003. (Credit: Bob Liepa)


After prevailing in an epic thriller of an opener to the Suffolk County Class C baseball finals, what does Southold do for an encore?

Well, for starters, its No. 2 pitcher flirts with a no-hitter. And then the First Settlers win their first county championship since 2003. (more…)

Featured Story
05/21/15 12:00pm
John Drinkwater of Greenport led all of Suffolk County in home runs this season. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)

John Drinkwater of Greenport led all of Suffolk County in home runs this season. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)

As the Greenport Porters’ season progressed, every at-bat for senior John Drinkwater became an event in itself. Forget the score, forget the standings, all eyes trained on Drinkwater as he stepped into the batter’s box.

Where was he about to hit the next ball?  (more…)