08/23/14 10:00am
Michael and Alison Ventura outside their historic Village Lane home in Orient. The Cape Cod dates back to the 1700s. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Michael and Alison Ventura outside their historic Village Lane home in Orient. The Cape Cod dates back to the 1700s. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

On picture-postcard-pretty Village Lane in Orient, residents worried not long ago about the fate of one of the street’s genuine treasures — a simple but handsome Cape Cod house that may date as far back as the 1700s.

Neighbors watched with dismay as the front stoop of the house at No. 1780, in the heart of the hamlet’s prized National Historic District, disintegrated — one of them repaired it gratis — and a covered porch tilted so precariously that the owner had to remove it. (more…)

05/31/14 7:00am
An ivory tower. (Credit: Creative Commons)

An actual ivory tower, courtesy of Creative Commons.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to read between the lines of the brochure I received earlier this year from my college alma mater.

“Admissions 101: College Exploration Program for Trinity Families” read the headline on the brochure. Inside, I learned that the two-day program on the college’s campus in Hartford, Conn., was reserved for high school-aged children and grandchildren of Trinity alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

Talk about special treatment! (more…)

09/01/13 8:00am
LIRR

STEVE ROSSIN PHOTO | LIRR riders board an eastbound train out of Riverhead earlier this summer.

It’s a summer Friday afternoon and you’re stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway, headed from the city to the North Fork. If you’re traveling by bus for Orient, where I live, delays on the LIE could make the trip take as long as four hours.

Think this is bad? It could be a lot worse.

Suppose there were no Long Island Rail Road. Last year, the LIRR ran a great ad on its trains that imagined just such a disastrous turn of events. “Up to nine Long Island Expressway Lanes would be needed to handle the additional traffic,” declared the ad, which ended with the word “cough.”

In fact, more than 260,000 people ride the LIRR on the average weekday.

Statistics like that make me a strong supporter of the nation’s second-busiest commuter railroad, Long Island’s best hope for increasing personal mobility while decreasing congestion, consumption of fossil fuels and air pollution.

I know, I know. Frequency of service on the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma-Greenport line — the service that matters most to us — is woefully inadequate. But that could change.

As previously reported in these pages, funding is now available for the purchase of “scoot” trains on this route. While the railroad has yet to select the equipment it will buy, it’s shopping for trains that would be smaller and cheaper to operate than the current equipment on the Greenport line — a locomotive and two double-deck coaches.

A railroad spokesman recently told Times/Review reporter Tim Gannon, “As envisioned by the LIRR, scoot trains would allow for more frequent train service than currently provided.”

Hey, maybe that widely reviled payroll tax for public transit isn’t so bad after all.

Even without such improvements, there are ways right now to take advantage of the LIRR that many North Forkers may not realize.

For instance, savvy summertime travelers who’ve had it with the LIE can catch the Friday-only 3:55 p.m. train out of Penn Station, fairly confident that they’ll reach their North Fork destination on time. Arrival at Greenport is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Moreover, on the Ronkonkoma-Greenport leg of the trip, passengers can unwind with a glass of one of the local wines sold aboard the Friday-only train.

Unfortunately, that train operates only between the Memorial Day and Columbus Day weekends. But Saturday and Sunday service, once offered year-around but scaled back in 2010 to the same operating period as the Friday-only train, has been extended and will run between April and November.

Did I mention the Ronkonkoma solution to getting to Kennedy Airport?

If you hire someone to drive you from Orient to JFK, it can cost as much as $150 each way.

I’ve got a cheaper way: Drive to the Ronkonkoma station (LIE exit 60), park your car free (for an unlimited time) in the LIRR’s huge outdoor parking lot and board one of the trains operating nearly hourly to Jamaica. Upon arriving there, take the escalator to the station’s mezzanine and walk a few hundred feet to the platform where the Port Authority’s AirTrain departs every seven to 20 minutes for JFK’s terminals.

Train fare from Ronkonkoma to Jamaica is $13.50 at peak hours and $9.75 off-peak. Add $5 for the AirTrain, and you’ve saved well over $100. I know; I’ve done it.

Some folks who’ve used the Ronkonkoma station tell me they’re worried about missing the train because of the time consumed finding a parking spot in the often crowded free lot. That worried me, too, until I began using THE TIMETABLE.

By consulting the Ronkonkoma Branch timetable, you can determine when the next train from the city is supposed to reach the station. I schedule my arrival at the station around that time so that I can pull into one of the parking spaces just vacated by disembarking passengers. (On weekdays, there’s usually a 15- to 30-minute window between trains arriving from the city and leaving for it.)

Some people also worry that their cars could be vandalized in the parking lot. Never in the 16 years we’ve left our car there (once for as long as seven weeks) has it been damaged. Our luck did run out last year, however, when two exterior accessories — a rooftop kayak rack and a rear-end bike rack — were stolen. Foolishly, neither had been locked to the car.

It seemed like a small price to pay for a service that has worked so well.

Orient resident John Henry has been commuting to Manhattan for 16 years, usually using the LIRR’s Ronkonkoma-New York City service.

07/22/12 7:00am

If ignorance is bliss, then Americans must be blissful indeed these days.

Because so many of us display an appalling (and alarming) ignorance — just confirmed by a respected nonpartisan polling organization — about last month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling upholding President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Health care accounts for nearly a fifth of our gross national product and though voters say that health care remains a top issue for them, behind only the economy and jobs, a Pew Research Center survey found that 45 percent of respondents either were unaware of the court’s ruling (30 percent) or thought most of the law’s provisions had been struck down (15 percent).

“That is staggering stuff,” as The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza noted last week.

“Let’s just make sure we are all clear,” he wrote. “Forty-five percent of people didn’t know about or were misinformed about the most highly publicized Supreme Court case since — at least — Bush v. Gore in 2000 …” And it gets worse.

Among 18- to 29-year-olds — a wellspring of our future leaders — the proportion of respondents who were unaware of the court’s decision was a depressing 43 percent, even though Pew found it was the news story that Americans followed most closely in June. Imagine how much, or little, folks in that age bracket know about less closely followed news stories. Or perhaps you’d rather not.

Ignorance on a scale this breathtaking can be immensely useful to politicians. Indeed, it’s often one of their best friends.

Many believe President George W. Bush’s job of selling the disastrous Iraq War was made easier by the fact that a large majority of Americans believed at the time that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, although none of the plane hijackers involved came from his country and no link between him and the attacks was ever proven.

A Washington Post poll conducted two years after 9/11 found that seven in 10 Americans continued to think that Saddam was connected to the attacks.

To be fair, the Bush administration never said it had evidence of a link. But, as the newspaper noted in its 2003 story about its poll, the president in making the case for an invasion of Iraq frequently juxtaposed Iraq and al Qaeda in ways that hinted at a link.

If the public had been paying closer attention, an unnecessary war that eventually cost more than 4,000 American lives and led to the deaths of more than 100,000 civilians in Iraq would have been a tougher sell.

This year, as the country braces for what promises to be one of the most consequential presidential elections of all time — one that could set the nation’s direction for years to come — we owe it to ourselves and the country to do our homework on the issues, especially health care, which all of us will use at some time in our lives.

So let’s educate ourselves, for instance, about the difference between requiring people to get health insurance and requiring them to buy broccoli. Understand that and you understand why the insurance mandate is the linchpin of the Affordable Care Act, just as it was for the health care reform Mitt Romney achieved as governor of Massachusetts.

Sure, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going on with so many demands on our time. But keeping well-informed is one of the prices we pay for a living in a democracy.

What you don’t know can hurt you. Put another way, ignorance isn’t bliss.

Mr. Henry is a resident of Orient.

11/10/11 4:00am

It was, admittedly, a clever play on words.

“Occupy Wall Street animals go wild …ZOO-COTTI!” trumpeted the cover headline of last Friday’s New York Post. The headline referenced a story inside about a brawl between two men — “wackos” the paper called them — encamped at their lower Manhattan protest site.

“This is the new face of Zuccotti Park!” the story began before recounting the details of the fight and enumerating the (totally justified) complaints of nearby residents about the megaphones, incessant drumming, graffiti and public urination that have accompanied the seven-week-old protest.

But if there was anything good about this display of direct democracy — which has been emulated around the world  — the Post wasn’t telling you.

What a shame.

I visited the park last week and circulated for three hours among the dozens of tents crowding the site, which covers a city block and is about three-fifths the size of a football field. There, amid the occasional whiff of human waste and the occasional sophomoric sign (“Prosecute Ben Bernanke for TREASON”), the protesters I met spoke impressively on some of the most pressing issues of our time.

Not surprisingly, at the top of the protesters’ list was the widening income inequality between the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and the rest of us. “We are the 99 percent” was the message I kept hearing and seeing, and it couldn’t have been timelier.

Just last month, the Congressional Budget Office released a report showing that between 1979 and 2007, the after-tax income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans grew by 275 percent. In the same period, according to the report, the income of the three-fifths of Americans in the middle of the income scale increased by just under 40 percent.

This kind of news resonated with a 26-year-old protester named Dustin, who declined to give his last name. Dressed in a suit and tie, he displayed a poster with compelling charts on the country’s increasing concentration of wealth at the top.

“Now,” he told me, “people are actually discussing the way we’ve been robbed blind.”

“Middle America is feeling it and slowly waking up,” said Xiomara Hayes, a middle-aged teacher in the city and a daily protester.

Then she imparted this gem: “We are being forced to realize we are all one, but the 1 percent doesn’t know it yet,” because they’re still “locked in by power and money.”

Hmm. Locked in by power and money? Could this explain why the Post’s owner, Rupert Murdoch — whose net worth of $7.4 billion makes him the 37th wealthiest person in America, according to Forbes magazine — uses that paper and other properties like The Wall Street Journal and Fox News to disparage the protesters?

Indeed, dissatisfaction with press coverage of Occupy Wall Street inspired David Ippolito, 55, a self-described singer/songwriter, actor/playwright, to wield a homemade placard saying, “MEDIA please be honest about the spirit of the movement.”

News organizations, he told me, were focusing too much on “the fringes” of OWS, like a sole holder of anti-Semitic signs at Zuccotti Park, and not enough on “the thoughtful, kind, committed, informed people” who participate in the protests.

“Informed” would fit Joe, a 70-year-old New Jersey man. He sat beside his homemade sign, which asserted, “The Heart of the Problem: Corporate Financing of Political Campaigns Leads to Corporate Control of the Country.”

Alluding to last year’s disastrous 5-4 Supreme Court decision allowing corporations the same First Amendment rights as people when it comes to spending directly on political campaigns, Joe, who also declined to give his last name, joked to me, “They’ve got to get rid of personhood” for corporations “unless they want to be drafted or executed.” (He supports mandatory public campaign financing.)

Jenny Heinz, a protester sporting a tunic emblazoned with the message “Granny Peace Brigade,” said she thought Occupy Wall Street had changed the nature of the national discourse.

“It’s added words like inequality and democracy and injustice that the corporate media weren’t mentioning,” she said. “They can’t ignore it.”

And sometimes direct democracy really does make a difference. As the aforementioned David Ippolito reminded me, “Without protests, Richard Nixon would never have ended the Vietnam War.”

Yes, there are good and thoughtful people protesting with Occupy Wall Street. They deserve respect, not ridicule.

Mr. Henry is a former Times/Review copy editor and a resident of Orient.

04/20/11 8:03pm

It could have been worse. Indeed, It should have been worse.

I’m talking about the tax bite Uncle Sam just took out of my bank account. It was simply too damn small at a time when America is trying to shrink its breathtakingly high budget deficit — and deliver the level of services that citizens expect of a first-rate nation.

Disclosure: I was lucky enough to be born to a successful businessman, now deceased. I’m among the financially favored whom President Obama singled out for a tax increase last week.

It’s about time.

The notion that higher taxes for the most fortunate among us would stifle individual initiative does not compute. I’m old enough to remember that in the early postwar years the top marginal tax rate was in the (gasp!) 90-percent range. Those years were pretty prosperous.

So, too, were the years spanned by Bill Clinton’s time as president. When he took office in 1993, the top tax rate was down to 31 percent and the government, then as now, was living beyond its means. He soon raised that rate to 39.6 percent, helping to produce the longest unbroken period of economic growth in our history, as well as budget surpluses in the final years of his administration. (President Obama wants to restore the top bracket to the Clinton level from the current 35 percent.)

From a political standpoint, Mr. Obama was wise not to propose raising taxes for the middle class. The deficit is so large, however, that deep spending cuts, while also necessary, won’t be enough to close it. For that to happen, nearly everyone will to have to pay higher taxes.

I can hear the screaming now, but it so happens we Americans have been getting off relatively easily. How so?

According to data cited by the Washington, D.C.-based group Citizens for Tax Justice, or CTJ, the combined taxes imposed on individuals and businesses by federal, state and local governments in the United States are among the lowest in the developed world.

Take that, tea partiers!

The group referenced a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which found that in 2008 the U.S. ranked 25th among the 27 nations surveyed for total tax burden as a percentage of gross domestic product, or GDP. Only Turkey and Mexico ranked lower.

What accounts for the low ranking by the U.S. is the comparatively small portion of its GDP represented by collections from social insurance and payroll taxes, sales taxes and corporate income taxes. America ranked in the middle as far as personal income tax burden, although collections from it fell from 12.2 percent of the nation’s GDP in 2000 to 9.6 percent in 2008, reflecting the disastrous George W. Bush-backed tax cuts.

You can see all this by visiting the home page of the website ctj.org. Click on the two-headed arrow to the right of “Recent Reports” and scroll down to the report titled “United States Remains One of the Least Taxed Industrial Countries.” But let’s get back to George W. Bush.

He liked to defend his deficit-inducing tax cuts by telling Americans, “You can spend your money better than the government can spend its money.” Give me a break.

Does he really think enough civic-minded Americans could band together to raise money privately to build an interstate highway system, create the world’s biggest military machine or finance universal health insurance coverage (Medicare) for the elderly? Governments exist to do things we can’t do ourselves.

Sure, we all know there’s a lot of unnecessary government spending, although there are probably as many definitions of “unnecessary” as there are interest groups. What often gets overlooked is the unnecessary private spending by upper-income folks like me of money that might be put to better use in the government’s hands.

More aid for public schools, children’s health insurance or high-speed rail, anyone?

So much must be done if America is to stay both competitive and compassionate. We can’t afford not to have higher taxes. As

George W. once famously said in an altogether different context, “Bring them on.”

Mr. Henry is a frequent contributor to The Suffolk Times. He lives in Orient and New York.

01/17/11 11:33am

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Reading a follow-up story last week on the tragedy in Tucson in The Other Times headlined “Sadness aside, no shift seen on gun laws,” I was drawn to a comment from Congressman Mike Pence. When questioned about the prospects for new gun restrictions, he was quoted as replying, “I maintain that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens makes communities safer, not less safe.”

The assertion of the Indiana lawmaker, who until this month chaired the House Republican Conference and is considering running for president, was hardly remarkable; indeed, it was the kind of knee-jerk response from defenders of gun rights to which we’ve become all too accustomed after someone commits mass murder in this country.

Isn’t it time for some fresh thinking on this matter of life-and-death importance?

America has more firearms per capita than any other leading industrial democracy. So, if widespread firearm ownership does, in fact, make a country safer, ours should be among the safest. Right?

OK, you’ve already guessed the answer. But since it warrants relentless repetition so that even politicians like Mike Pence become receptive to new approaches to reducing firearm deaths, I’ll give it to you anyway. Here goes, courtesy of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which found that the U.S. firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people was:

• 5 times that of Canada.

•13 times that of Germany.

•19 times that of Australia.

•24 times that of Spain.

•44 times that of England and Wales.

The organization’s findings are reinforced by a study of firearm deaths from all causes, homicides, suicides and accidental deaths, that found that among 23 populous, high-income countries four in every five such deaths occurred in the United States.

“Compared with other high-income countries, homicide is a particular problem for the United States, largely due to firearm homicide,” concluded Erin G. Richardson and David Hemenway, the authors of the study published last year in the Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care.

Their study showed that the U.S. had an overall homicide rate nearly seven times higher than the other nations, reflecting a firearm homicide rate that was nearly 20 times higher. And, as we know, some who commit murder with a gun in America do so with a weapon they obtained legally, as apparently happened in Tucson.

Moreover, although the non-firearm suicide rate in America was only 40 percent as great as in the other nations, the study found that the firearm suicide rate in the U.S. was nearly six times higher, more than offsetting the lower number. And the accidental firearm death rate in the U.S. was 5 1/2 times higher than the rate in these other countries.

Surely such profoundly sobering statistics should be part of a national conversation about whether there’s safety in numbers where firearms are concerned.

Let the conversation begin.

Mr. Henry resides in Orient.

08/12/10 12:00am

For more than 30 years the Suffolk County Water Authority gave its directors unauthorized fringe benefits, ranging from cars for personal use to health insurance and dental coverage, according to the state comptroller’s office.

A study of 20 local public authorities around the state released early this year by the comptroller’s office and recently obtained by The Suffolk Times found that the SCWA was one of five that paid their board members in excess of what their respective county legislatures had authorized.

In the SCWA’s case, the unauthorized benefits represented nearly 40 percent of the total compensation received by its board members during the audit period, which covered from Jan. 1, 2007, through March 31, 2008.

“The practice of providing unauthorized payments dates back to 1976,” said a spokeswoman for state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, referring to the authority.

The report found that the SCWA terminated the fringe benefits, except for life insurance, to board members during the audit period. The SCWA officials subsequently ended that exception and directors now pay for benefits that the authority offers to its employees.

“Nobody takes benefits now unless you want to pay for them,” said James Gaughran, the authority’s new chairman.

During the 15-month audit period, the SCWA directors as a group received authorized compensation of $127,400 and unauthorized compensation of $49,531, which included personal use of authority vehicles, health and life insurance, dental and vision coverage.

The authorized compensation for the directors consists of the chairman’s annual salary of $32,000 and the $18,500 annual salary of each of the other four directors. Board members are appointed for five-year terms.

The comptroller has no legal authority to determine whether an action is criminal, said Mr. DiNapoli’s spokeswoman. “We can only make recommendations,” she said.

The SCWA is a public benefit corporation that by law must reinvest any profits in its operations. It has no shareholders and pays no dividends. The Oakdale-based authority, which had revenues of approximately $153 million in its latest fiscal year, claims to be the largest provider of groundwater — water taken from underground aquifers — in the U.S. It’s directors are appointed by the Suffolk County Legislature, which also sets their compensation.

The comptroller’s report has been widely circulated among foes of the authority’s plan to build a three-mile-long water main from East Marion to Orient’s Brown’s Hills community. One opponent forwarded a copy of the report under the heading “Compensation of Suffolk County Water Authority Board members — The Gravy Train.”

Some critics of the authority view its directorships as political plums awarded by the legislature to people who once held elective office. Melanie Norden, a Greenport resident and activist who opposes the Orient project, is blunt.

The SCWA, she wrote recently, “is where all good politicians go to die — in style.”

Not surprisingly, some SCWA directors and former directors don’t take kindly to such criticism.

“I happened to be the county executive of Suffolk County for four years,” Democrat Patrick Halpin said in an interview. “I ran a $1.2-billion corporation with 12,000 employees. To the credit of the county Legislature, they’ve worked very hard to appoint people who they think are capable of running one of the best water companies in the country.”

For his part, Michael LoGrande, a Cutchogue resident and also a former Republican county executive who retired in May after two decades as SCWA chairman, said, “I went to MIT. I was a Harvard University Loeb Fellow. I was the commissioner of planning and development in the Town of Islip. I was the chief planner of Suffolk County. And I also devised the system of preserving the Pine Barrens. Now, if you want to call that a political payoff, you don’t understand.”

Current SCWA directors have more than a nodding acquaintance with the county legislature. Three of them — Mr. Gaughran, Jane Devine and Mr. Halpin — have served there. A fourth, Errol D. Toulon Jr., who joined the board in June, ran unsuccessfully last fall to represent the 12th District in Smithtown.

All are Democrats, as is the other director, Frank J. Pellegrino, business manager of Plumbers Union Local 200, which covers Suffolk and Nassau Counties. The political affiliations reflect the Democrats’ takeover of the legislature in 2005.

“It’s the right of the majority” to appoint directors of the same party, noted Ms. Devine.

Politics was not an issue when the Democratic board challenged the Democratic comptroller’s findings, although the SCWA board voluntarily ended health, vision and dental insurance benefits in 2007 and terminated paid life insurance benefits last year. SCWA cars are no longer given to directors for personal use, although one is available to the chairman if he needs it for authority business.

In a letter to the comptroller’s office contesting its findings, the authority’s then-CEO Stephen Jones wrote that “the Suffolk County Legislature acknowledged and ratified the provision of benefits to SCWA board members over the years. Thus, the SCWA board members were legally entitled to receive such benefits.”

The comptroller’s office says, however, that resolutions passed by the legislature that the authority contends provide detailed explanations of annual compensation to SCWA board members contain no such information.

Although the SCWA ceased giving free fringe benefits to its current directors, the comptroller’s report said the SCWA continued to “inappropriately” provide health insurance to a former board member, whom Mr. DiNapoli’s spokeswoman identified as Dr. Melvin Fritz.

The legislature last August authorized SCWA to pay insurance benefits to three former directors, including Dr. Fritz, and their spouses as well as to the widow of an ex-board member.

“It was a matter of compassion,” a spokesman for the Legislature’s presiding officer, William Lindsay, said of the lawmakers’ action. “They are elderly, and they had been promised the benefits.”

Even as seasoned an administrator as Mr. LoGrande didn’t always get his way with legislators. They failed, for example, to support his 2007 request for a $4,500 increase in annual compensation for the other SCWA directors and an $8,000 hike for himself.

The salaries for the SCWA’s directors and chairman were raised to their current respective levels of $18,500 and $32,000 in 1999. The previous increase, according to Mr. LoGrande, occurred in 1973.

The SCWA was one of three water authorities in the state cited by the comptroller’s office for providing unauthorized compensation to their directors. One of the other authorities, which is far smaller than the SCWA, offered its board members unauthorized benefits that were more than double its approved compensation.

08/05/10 12:00am

If opponents of the Suffolk County Water Authority’s plan to build a three-mile-long water main from East Marion to Orient’s Brown’s Hills community had any lingering doubts about Supervisor Scott Russell’s commitment to defeating the intensely controversial project, he surely dispelled them on Sunday.

Speaking during a 1 1/2-hour conversation about the project with local residents in Orient’s Poquatuck Hall, Mr. Russell said it was his “sincere hope” that the Board of Trustees will turn down an application for a construction permit sought by the SCWA. The public comment period on the application was set to end Wednesday, Aug. 4.

Mr. Russell added that if the Trustees did approve the permit, only the Town Board could approve changing the town’s water map, which has long governed which areas are served by public water. The water authority has said it can proceed without a water map change.

“The Town Board is very determined to uphold its right to say no,” the supervisor said.

The Trustees’ president, Jill Doherty, declined comment on his remarks Monday, noting that her board was still reviewing the SCWA’s application. She said she didn’t know when her panel would rule on it.

Opponents of the $3.8-million water main project, half of which would be financed with federal stimulus money, fear it could hasten development of the Orient peninsula. At the same time, many Brown’s Hills residents contend that public water would be inferior to the well water they now use, which is purified by reverse osmosis filters installed by the SCWA in each of the community’s 24 homes.

Many Orient residents who attended the Trustees’ stormy July 21 public hearing on the SCWA’s permit application were still smarting over the way the board conducted the meeting. At Sunday’s meeting, Melanie Norden, a Greenport resident whose brother lives in Orient, complained that some Trustees at the hearing seemed “utterly uninformed” both about the state Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, and a portion of the Town Code dealing with wetlands and shorelines.

The Trustees have jurisdiction over wetland and waterfront projects. The pipeline, which would run under Dam Pond in East Marion, also would lie close to wetlands there and in Orient.

When Trustee John Bredemeyer III, an Orient resident, asked Mr. Russell on Sunday if he would speak to the Trustees, the supervisor said he would be glad to. Mr. Bredemeyer drew applause when said he would relay Mr. Russell’s offer to Ms. Doherty.

Interviewed afterward, Mr Bredemeyer called Mr. Russell’s presentation at Poquatuck Hall “awesome” and said, “It’s great he’s willing to come before the Trustees.”

When asked about Mr. Russell’s offer, Ms. Doherty said, “We’re always receptive to talking to the Town Board.” She added, “It’s definitely pertinent to keep the lines of communication open with them.”

Mr. Russell said the Town Board was “not unfavorable” to the creation of an independent water district for Brown’s Hills that would relieve the SCWA of its responsibility for serving the community. But he said a county health department official had told him at a meeting last week that such a district would be unprecedented and that “you’ll never get permission” to do it.

Martin Trent of Orient, chief of the health department’s Office of Ecology who attended the meeting, confirmed that establishing an independent district would be unprecedented but said he didn’t recall anyone saying it would be impossible.

Asked what he thought the SCWA’s motives were in pursuing such an unpopular project, Mr. Russell said he didn’t know. Then, to laughter, he added that although he didn’t usually subscribe to conspiracy theories, now “they’re getting my attention.”

Mr. Russell was treated like a comrade-in-arms by many in the audience, and several people thanked him publicly for coming. Among his admirers was the president-elect of the Orient Association civic group, MaryAnn Liberatore, who said in an interview that Mr. Russell had requested the meeting.

Orient resident Tim Frost was impressed enough with Mr. Russell to venture after the meeting, “He may be a better supervisor than we deserve.”

07/22/10 12:00am

If you’re like many people I know, you may be unaware that for more than a year Suffolk County Transit’s S92 buses — which wend their leisurely way between Orient Point and East Hampton via Riverhead daily except Sunday — have been sporting bicycle racks on their front ends, each capable of carrying two bikes.

It’s easy to overlook these racks since they fold up compactly against the front of the bus when not in use. Also, they’re silver colored and offer little visual contrast with the buses’ white exterior. But for those of us who use them, the racks have facilitated a splendid marriage of two of the most environmentally friendly means of mobility — public transit and pedal power — with the health benefits of cycling thrown in for good measure.

Like most marriages, however, this one is imperfect.

My first experience using the racks last summer was humiliating. I fumbled and fumed trying to load my bike while the bus driver, already way behind schedule because of heavy traffic on the South Fork, impatiently gestured to me, in vain, from behind the windshield how to do it. He had to leave the bus to do it himself, muttering, “I don’t want to have to write out an accident report.”

This unhappy encounter only stiffened my resolve to master the technique this year, which I did on a recent trip aboard the S92 from Greenport to East Hampton. Instead of panicking, I turned this time to my last resort: following the directions on the rack. “Push in and pull handle up to release and lower,” they instructed. It couldn’t have been easier.

“It seems that once someone has done it the first time, then they do it fairly quickly after that,” bus driver Ken Loeb told me. Indeed, loading takes maybe 30 seconds, unloading even less.

In one sense, the rack service is a bargain. There’s no charge for bringing your bike, and bus rides are reasonable by big-city standards. The full fare is $1.50; students pay $1 and seniors, 50 cents. But in another sense you get what you pay for.

There’s no assurance that there will be space on the rack for your bike. On my trip back to Greenport, the bus was carrying two bikes and unable to accommodate a third that a man in Southold wanted to load. “He’ll have to wait another hour,” said Mr. Loeb, adding that he doesn’t have to turn away bicyclists very often. (Tip to Suffolk County Transit: In future purchases of racks, it should consider models that hold three bikes and racks that store bikes vertically inside the bus.)

The S92 departs every half-hour at peak times and hourly at other times. Even operating on or close to schedule, it’s slow. It took my bus nearly 2 1/4 hours to cover the approximately 65 miles to East Hampton. And when it’s really slow?

A fellow passenger, Jack Duo of Shelter Island, said that on a summer Friday he once waited four hours with his bike in Riverhead for a bus to Greenport because it was delayed on the South Fork.

Still, he loves being able to bring his two-wheeler with him. A fit-looking man of 56, he says he’s lost 25 pounds since he began cycling to and from the bus when he does volunteer work on the North Fork. “I think it’s one of the best additions that Suffolk Transit could put into play,” he said of the racks.

What I liked about this service was that it enabled me to do some superb cycling on the South Fork that I otherwise wouldn’t have. From East Hampton, I headed west (mainly on lightly traveled roads south of the Montauk Highway) past the estates, farms and seascapes of Wainscott and Sagaponack to Bridgehampton, where I caught the S92 for the return trip. Using the bus this way meant that I didn’t have to retrace my route by bike.

All this cost me only $1, the senior round-trip bus fare.

Clearly, this marriage of transportation modes, whatever its imperfections, is something to celebrate. Long may it last.

John Henry is a frequent contributor to The Suffolk Times. He lives in Orient.