01/01/14 9:00am
01/01/2014 9:00 AM
FILE PHOTO | Town passes Plum Island zoning.

FILE PHOTO | Southold Town passed Plum Island zoning in 2013.

Preparing for the federal government’s planned sale of Plum Island, Southold Town passed a much-anticipated zoning proposal for the 840-acre island this year.

The effort to enact zoning on the island started two-and-a-half years ago after the federal government decided to close the animal disease research laboratory at Plum Island, which employs close to 360 people, and use the profits from the island’s sale to cover the cost of building a new, $1.1 billion laboratory in Manhattan, Kan.

This year, pressure to pass zoning for the island, which has been federally owned since the late 19th century, intensified when the U.S. General Services Administration suggested the government sell the land to a private developer for construction of up to 500 houses. In October, Donald Trump has expressed interest in building a golf course on the island.

But the town had already taken steps to ensure such a project won’t pop up on the island.

The town created two principal zoning districts on Plum Island, neither of which permits the construction of commercial or residential structures.

The Plum Island Research District includes the existing lab and the about 176 acres immediately surrounding it, on which additional educational or recreational uses will be allowed. No development will be allowed on another zone 639-acre created — the The Plum Island Conservation District.

Under the original proposal, the town’s current Marine District zoning would have been amended and expanded to apply to the entire island. Residents and business owners, however, argued that the change would make the town’s existing ferry terminals outside Plum Island non-conforming lots, which could lead to problems down the road if those companies sought to build or expand. The town has vowed to take up the Marine District issue at a later date.

Since August, when the government released it final decision to auction the island to the highest bidder, elected leaders such as Congressman Tim Bishop and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have called for further review of the island before the sale continues.

Despite protests, GSA is sticking to the original plan.

Click here for a complete list of our 2013 top news stories.

12/31/13 9:00am
12/31/2013 9:00 AM
FILE PHOTO | Vineyard 48

FILE PHOTO | Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue.

Update: Vineyard 48 back in business as it appeals SLA license revocation

After years of complaints from local residents, a back-and-forth with town leaders and even a lawsuit submitted against it on the town’s behalf, controversial Vineyard 48 had its liquor license revoked by the State Liquor Authority in December.

The ruling came as a relief to town officials, police and, perhaps most of all, neighbors of the Cutchogue winery who have long complained about a host of concerns, including loud music and patrons allegedly having sex in public on private property.

In response to those claims, the town put activities at all local wineries under the microscope. However, the Southold Town Board’s attempt to pass two separate pieces of legislation concerning the use of wineries has proven a tricky task.

After years of fine-tuning, the town adopted its controversial special events law this year, but the issue became muddied by a separate proposed policy to change the town’s legal definition of permitted winery uses.

In November the Planning Board requested that the Zoning Board of Appeals evaluate what constitutes a winery, including whether a “dance and/or social club” was permissible in a tasting room and whether a retail cigar shop was an acceptable accessory use at a vineyard, ZBA chair Leslie Weisman said.
Both those activities had become common practice at Vineyard 48, according to the ZBA, prompting investigations by both the town and the State Liquor Authority.

Vineyard 48 owner Matthew Metz has refuted all accusations against the vineyard and called the town a “bully,” saying it is unfairly targeting his business.

Shortly before the winery lost its liquor license Dec. 18, Mr. Metz filed suit against the town to defend his business, Supervisor Scott Russell said.

As the legal battle continues, the town’s attempt to hone its definition of a winery will have to wait until 2014.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

12/30/13 9:35am
12/30/2013 9:35 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | David Gamberg talks to Greenport school officials after Wednesday night's meeting.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | David Gamberg talks to Greenport school officials after a Southold school board meeting.

Greenport Superintendent Michael Comanda and his Southold counterpart, Superintendent David Gamberg, announced on Nov. 15 that the districts have reached a shared-superintendent agreement.

Come this summer, when Mr. Comanda retires, Mr. Gamberg is expected to take his place for the next two years while keeping his Southold superintendent position — a move state officials are calling a first for Long Island K-12 school districts.

Under the deal, the districts would share Mr. Gamberg’s salary equally and he will “have dual reporting lines to both boards.” Other details, including salary, are still being discussed.

Mr. Comanda, who will continue as a part-time superintendent in the New Suffolk school district, said he believes the Gamberg move is a win-win for taxpayers and Greenport families. Mr. Gamberg said he believes his background as an assistant superintendent in the Patchogue-Medford School District will help him adjust to working in two districts, since that larger district has 11 buildings.

In addition to handling tuition negotiations with New Suffolk as Southold’s superintendent — an ironic move that means he will still be working with Mr. Comanda — Mr. Gamberg will now also be responsible for working on Greenport’s secondary contract with Oysterponds. The Oysterponds school district in Orient currently sends its secondary students to Greenport. Those districts are currently finalizing a five-year tuition deal.

State Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who has been a big proponent of shared-service agreements, described Greenport and Southold as being a model to show other districts they can expand quality student programs while saving taxpayer dollars and maintaining a school’s identity.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

12/29/13 9:00am
12/29/2013 9:00 AM
JAMES COLLIGAN FILE PHOTO | Deer management is one of the items up for discussion at Tuesday's Southold Town Board work session and meeting.

JAMES COLLIGAN FILE PHOTO | The Southold Town Board has held meetings to discuss deer management plans.

Deer have been on the North Fork for a long time. But in 2013, issues concerning the burgeoning local deer population came to the forefront.

The gradual increase in both awareness and incidence of tick-borne illnesses, the increasing numbers of the animals and the growth of a town-run deer management program took center stage this year.

Supervisor Scott Russell has called illnesses spread by the deer that roam local woods, yards and streets a “public health crisis.”

The issue started gaining traction when 12 individuals formed the North Fork Deer Management Alliance in July. The group called on government to help reduce deer density in Southold from an estimated 65-plus deer per square mile to under 10.

A few months later, over 250 residents packed the Peconic recreation center as Mr. Russell said plainly, “We need to focus on culling the herd and easing restrictions on hunters. We have to take each year far more deer than are being reproduced.”

The town continued to move toward this goal in the closing months of the year, as the supervisor’s 2014 budget earmarked $75,000 for “deer eradication expenses,” a new expense on the town level. In mid-November, a member of the Deer Management Alliance told a crowd in Orient that the town — in conjunction with the Long Island Farm Bureau — will support a sharpshooter program run through the United States Department of Agriculture to cull the herd in specific spots in town.

And most recently, a group of North Fork lawmakers and advocacy groups lobbied an up-Island assemblyman to move a bill on the state level that would give East End towns the local option to reduce bowhunting setbacks from 500 to 150 feet.

Passing this legislation is one of several actions Mr. Russell hopes to see come to fruition in the coming year.

“Southold Town needs to take the deer crisis and make it priority number one,” the supervisor said this fall.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

12/28/13 9:00am
12/28/2013 9:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | A missing person flier posted at the King Cullen in Cutchogue.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | A missing person flier posted at the King Cullen in Cutchogue.

When a 16-year-old Southold High School student didn’t show up for school one day last February, local law enforcement launched a missing-person search that was unprecedented for the North Fork.

Ashley Murray, whose Feb. 25 disappearance resulted in a massive search that lit up the social media world, had left a handwritten “suicide note” in her bedroom mentioning a “watery grave” and had sent text messages to several friends saying she might end her life, her mother, Charlotte Murray, had said.

Because of the rural location of the Murray home, which is surrounded by trees and is in close proximity to creeks and the bay, Suffolk County police canine and aviation units were brought on early in the search process. Police later focused their efforts on interviewing friends and family members and examining phone and computer records.

Southold police partnered in the investigation with the FBI, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Suffolk police and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

A group of Ashley’s friends and concerned citizens also gathered at the high school three days after the disappearance and handed out missing-person fliers across the North Fork. Ashley ultimately turned herself in March 8 to the Southold Town Police Department with an unidentified adult friend.

No charges have been made in the missing person’s case. Police said they believed she was a runaway, not abducted, and remained on the East End during her disappearance. They declined to disclose the location of where she had been during her disappearance.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

12/27/13 9:00am
12/27/2013 9:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | More and more tourists are flocking to the North Fork each summer.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | More and more tourists are flocking to the North Fork each summer.

The notion of a sleepy summer season was a foreign concept on the North Fork this year, with droves of tourists visiting Southold Town to enjoy the region’s many charms.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating impact on popular summer spots like Fire Island and parts of the Jersey Shore, officials in the North Fork’s local tourism and hospitality industries reported one of the most successful summer seasons on record.

“We have been seeing a lot of new visitors all across the North Fork,” said Steve Bate, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council and a board member of the East End Tourism Alliance.

More visitors meant more business for local shops, particularly in Greenport.

“It was the best summer we’ve had,” said Shelley Scoggin, owner of The Market, which opened in Greenport Village in 1987. “We were really, really busy and Greenport was busier than ever.”
Even before the 2013 season began, Greenport Village Business Improvement District director Peter Clarke predicted a tourism surge in the waterfront village.

In preparation, the BID developed new maps and signage to outline the business district for visitors and sponsored a number of events to attract tourists.

“People have fallen in love with the assets of our area,” Mr. Clarke said in September. “I know we’ve had more traffic for sure. The marina has been full and mega yachts have been docking. People are interested in coming to Greenport. It’s excellent.”

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

12/26/13 9:00am
12/26/2013 9:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch listening to a parade of speakers at Tuesday night's forum.

CARRIE MILLER FILE PHOTO | Education commissioner John King and state Board of Regents Meryl Tisch listening to a parade of speakers at recent forum.

This year marked the first time New York public school students took state assessments based on new curriculum known as Common Core.

The Common Core State Standards is designed to raise academic achievements inside the classroom and help prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century, state officials have said. The nationwide initiative primarily requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and rigorous math to students at a younger age.

While state officials have claimed implementation of Common Core aims to better prepare students for the future, many parents and educators have criticized the move because they believe teachers are being forced to abandon true learning for what is known as “teaching to the test.”

The results of the new assessments are also expected to be tied to the APPR plan, which stands for Annual Professional Performance Review. This teacher evaluation requirement originated in 2010 after New York was awarded a grant of nearly $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program. For individual school districts to qualify for part of the grant, the state required each to implement its own APPR program this year.

In August, the state Department of Education released the results of math and English Language Arts assessments that students in grades 3 through 8 took in April. Those scores were significantly lower compared to the previous school year, which state and school officials had predicted.

Statistics statewide for New York schools in which students took the assessments showed 69 percent failed to meet proficiency levels in math and 68.9 percent in ELA. School districts in Suffolk County generally fared better than the state overall, with 66.8 percent failing math and 63.7 percent failing ELA.

After scores were released, local districts passed resolutions calling on state and federal officials to overhaul the current method of standardized testing tied to teacher evaluations.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

12/25/13 9:00am
12/25/2013 9:00 AM
KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Cars piled with snow in Cutchogue.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Cars piled with snow in Cutchogue.

A mid-winter blizzard dumped more than a foot of snow on Southold Town, forcing police to free trapped drivers and Cutchogue firefighters to save four people from an electrical fire in the middle of the storm.

A former Southold policeman and firefighter — 72-year-old Fred Fiedler — died during the blizzard, when he suffered a heart attack while clearing away the piling snow.

The nor’easter struck the night of Feb. 8 into that weekend, dumping the most snow on the western edges of town. Southold Town saw about 13 inches of snow, dodging the more serious totals from towns farther up Long Island.

“Overall we were lucky,” said Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley.

The storm caused scattered power outages across the North Fork, at one point leaving almost all of Orient in the dark. But more serious winds or storm tides never hit the area, as town officials had feared.

During the storm, about 36 Cutchogue firefighters rushed to the scene of a fire on Tuthill Lane. Electric cables in the basement of the home caught fire when a transformer blew outside, filling the house with smoke.

The people inside — a woman and her three nieces, ages 7, 8 and 18 — were all safely moved to a waiting ambulance as firefighters doused the small fire.

Weather experts said the storm — which strengthened rapidly when two branches of the jet stream combined west of Long Island — will be remembered as one of the biggest blizzards in recorded history to hit Long Island.

“[The blizzard] will be looked upon as one of the more classic nor’easters to occur in this part of the nation,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Tim Morrin. “Everything came together so exquisitely perfect.”

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

12/24/13 9:00am
12/24/2013 9:00 AM
KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Republican candidates celebrate a largely victorious election night at the Soundview Inn in Greenport.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Republican candidates celebrate a largely victorious election night at the Soundview Inn in Greenport.

Even before Election Day, 2013 was a year of change on the Southold Town political landscape.

The season of change began when Town Board member Al Krupski won a special election in January to fill the vacant North Fork seat in the county Legislature. It continued when Assessor Darline Duffy retired this June after 22 years in office. Throw in the decision of Highway Superintendent Pete Harris and Councilman Chris Talbot to not seek re-election, Trustee Bob Ghosio’s pursuit of a Town Board post and the Republican Party’s decision to not re-nominate Judge Bill Price and Trustee Dave Bergen, and change becomes an even bigger theme this year.

But even with change, some things remained the same. Republicans strengthened their hold on town politics, emerging from Election Day controlling all five seats on the Town Board. And with Republicans Charles Sanders earning a Trustee position, and Vincent Orlando’s stepping into the highway department superintendent post, Justice Price will be the only Democratic-backed candidate in town office come January.

There is even a new face representing the North Fork in the state Assembly, following Dan Losquadro’s departure to the Brookhaven Town Highway Department: Anthony Palumbo, an attorney from New Suffolk, defeated John McManmon of Aquebogue to win the special election this November.

Of course, 2014 could be a season of change, too. The Southold Town Board is expected to soon appoint someone to fill Mr. Ghosio’s seat on the Board of Trustees, with a special election in the fall to complete the term. And on the federal level, Congressman Tim Bishop is facing an aggressive challenge from state Senator Lee Zeldin of Shirley.

The lawn signs will be back before you know it.

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.

12/23/13 8:50am
12/23/2013 8:50 AM
CYNDI MURRAY FILE PHOTO | Law enforcement officials outside Cutchogue 7-Eleven.

CYNDI MURRAY FILE PHOTO | Law enforcement officials outside Cutchogue 7-Eleven.

One of the U.S. Department of Justice’s largest criminal immigrant employment investigations to date found its way to Southold Town in June.

The federal sting led to the arrest of Cutchogue and Greenport 7-Eleven owner Farrukh Baig, who along with eight others, conspired in a multi-state scheme involving identity theft and the employment of illegal immigrants, authorities said.

Customers were turned away as federal agents seized the Main Road stores early Monday June 17.

Mr. Baig, 57, of Head of the Harbor, and his wife, Bushra, 49, owners of a dozen 7-Eleven locations, including two franchises in Southold Town, were among the nine suspects arrested as part of the nationwide investigation, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said.

The defendants stole identities from 25 victims ranging from 8 to 78 years old, including three deceased people, and assigned them to illegal immigrants working in the stores, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The false information was then submitted to 7-Eleven’s corporate headquarters, where wages were issued to compensate the illegal immigrants, prosecutors said. But the nine defendants took “significant portions” of those wages, always paying immigrant employees in cash, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Employees worked 100 or more hours per week in some cases but were paid for as little as 25 hours in a week, making between $350 and $500 for their time, prosecutors said.

[RELATED: 7-Eleven stores reopen and customers return]

[RELATED: What happened to 7-Eleven workers after raid?]

Editor’s note: We’re counting down the top 10 news stories of 2013. Check back every day until Jan. 1 to follow along.