11/07/12 12:56am
11/07/2012 12:56 AM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Ed Romaine, right, was elected Brookhaven Town Supervisor Tuesday. He’s shown here with Brookhaven GOP chairman Jesse Garcia.

Election season came to a close on the North Fork Tuesday. It starts back up Wednesday.

That’s because North Fork County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) has won a special election to become the next Brookhaven Town Supervisor, setting up a February special election to fill his seat in the Legislature.

“Tomorrow is a new day for cheers,” Mr. Romaine told GOP supporters at the party gala in Patchogue Tuesday night.

He said his replacement in the Legislature will have to fight hard to get the residents of the North Fork what they need. He said that person will need to stand up to others “for what is right” for the East End.

“If the issues are right and you can make a decent case, you can prevail,” said Mr. Romaine of what advice he’d give his replacement.

Now the attention will turn to just who that replacement will be.

Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer of Babylon said his first phone call Wednesday will be to gauge the interest of Southold Councilman Al Krupski, the only Democrat to serve on a Town Board in Mr. Romaine’s district.

“People respect him and know he calls it like he sees it,” said Mr. Schaffer of Mr. Krupski. He did not discuss any other potential candidates.

The Republican picture isn’t as clear but a pair of Riverhead Councilmembers, Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy, previously expressed an interest in the post to the News-Review.

Democrats, with a 12-member caucus that includes two minor-party members, currently hold a majority in the Suffolk County Legislature. The County Executive, Steve Bellone, is also a Democrat.

Reporting by Jennifer Gustavson and Michael White

10/18/12 8:00am
10/18/2012 8:00 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Jen Stress, a former program assistant with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, drags a flagging cloth through a field to survey area tick numbers.

East Enders who have suffered with Lyme and other tick-borne diseases had their chance Oct. 10 to voice their frustrations to a new county task force charged with coming up with concrete steps to control the spread of the diseases.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine convened the 16-member Tick & Vector-Borne Disease Task Force earlier this fall in an attempt to focus on the health crisis facing the East End.

During the committee’s public hearing at the Southold Recreation Center in Peconic last Wednesday, task force members got an earful from people who have suffered for years from chronic Lyme Disease, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other serious illnesses.

Many in attendance said they’ve had difficulty getting doctors to take their chronic symptoms seriously and put them on the long-term antibiotics they need to go about their lives.

Still others told stories of years — and sometimes decades — of misdiagnoses before their illness was correctly identified as Lyme disease.

“The insurance companies don’t want to pay for it …. Doctors that know what to do and have the guts to do it are afraid,” said Sue Ulrich of Shirley. “You don’t need any of those degrees to know you are sick.”

“If you’re a tourist, you should come here in a tank and don’t get out,” said Ugo Polla of Cutchogue, adding that ticks abound in vineyards and other tourist destinations. “Have the wine delivered, drink it and get out,” he said.

“It seems like we just keep studying these things. We need action,” said Hugh Switzer of Peconic. “We need support for our supervisor and board for actions necessary to get rid of deer. We have friends who no longer want to visit with us. They say, ‘Why would I want to come if every time I go outside I have to check for ticks?’ Our children won’t bring our grandchildren to see us.”

Numerous people told the task force horror stories of their children’s lives after they were bitten by ticks.

Jen Brown of North Haven told the task force that her son was first bitten by a tick at age 2. Now 5, he has been through weeks of hospitalization and has had more than a thousand brain seizures.

“He’s currently so fragile the infection cannot be treated because of the seizures,” she said.

Dr. John Rasweiler, a retired medical school professor who studied mammalian biology, said “deer are a terrible, terrible problem.”

Dr. Rasweiler, who serves on the town’s deer management committee, said last year only 382 of the approximately 10,000 deer in Southold were killed by hunters.

“I’m sorry. It’s just not cutting the mustard,” he said of Southold’s deer hunting program.

Dr. Rasweiler suggested that car insurance companies could pay for more aggressive deer management programs through a special surcharge on local car insurance bills. He said he had researched the cost of deer-related car accidents, which he estimated at about $200 million in New York State each year.

“This could pay for the program, and in the process take care of the problem with ticks and environmental damage” caused by deer, he said.

Supervisor Scott Russell said that in order to have a truly effective deer hunt, he needs the state to change the law to allow hunters to bait deer.

He said he has been pressuring local representatives in the state Legislature to introduce such a bill. Once it’s introduced, he said, he’d like Southold residents to launch a letter writing and phone call campaign in support of the measure.

“We have the hunters, the [meat] cooler and wildlife butchers. We need legislation allowing us to bait,” he said. “We need to have some flexibility at the state level.”

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10/18/12 7:59am

You’ve got to feel just a bit sorry for the members of County Legislator Ed Romaine’s tick task force, which held its first local public hearing in Peconic last week.

As the story on page 3 of this week’s edition points out, the group’s members spoke little but heard a lot. The information passed on to them was far from new — people suffering over the years with a variety of debilitating tick-borne diseases, not just the universally known and feared Lyme disease.

The question is what to do with it all.

Ticks are everywhere — in fields, forests, farms and our own backyards. Some are nearly impossible to see, but their bites can cause maladies impossible to ignore. The burgeoning deer population most often gets the blame but, like it or not, the deer will always be with us.

Hunting alone won’t cull the herd enough to make a measurable difference, nor will adding contraceptives to feeding stations. In favorable conditions — and the one fact that has become all too clear is the East End with its farms and lawns and tasty (to deer, anyway) gardens and shrubs offers ideal conditions — a deer herd can increase by 40 percent a year.

Tests of the “4-Poster” tick control system on Shelter Island, which gives a dose of insecticide to deer dining at a feeding station, has shown that approach can work, but the idea has yet to catch on with local governments. That’s not surprising, since each of the Shelter Island 4-Posters cost $5,000 a year to maintain and fears persist that potentially harmful pesticides might find their way into the environment and the food chain.

As Southold Town discovered in creating its deer management program, hunting restrictions are the state’s purview and the state shows absolutely no interest in relaxing hunting restrictions in populated areas.

That’s why we feel a bit sorry for the tick task force. Theirs seems an impossible task and, not to prejudge, but there’s absolutely nothing to be gained by the release of a report concluding that the problem is serious and something should be done about it.

That became all too obvious many years ago.

10/09/12 4:30pm
10/09/2012 4:30 PM

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) filed a bill on Tuesday urging the county to go to court to seek a refund of about $12 million in MTA payroll taxes the county paid to the state over the past four years.

A similar resolution was submitted in Brookhaven Town by Councilman Dan Panico, who said that town is seeking a refund of about $917,000 from the MTA.

Mr. Romaine is also running for Brookhaven Town supervisor in November.

Read more about the bill in Thursday’s paper.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine and Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico discuss plans for Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven to receive refunds from the former MTA payroll tax.

10/03/12 3:14pm
10/03/2012 3:14 PM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, and Legislator Jay Schneiderman, right, at a press conference earlier this year.

East End lawmakers are divided over County Executive Steve Bellone’s recent recommendation that more county health centers transition to a federally operated model.

Touting the “successful” transfer of the county’s Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram to Hudson River HealthCare earlier this year, Mr. Bellone’s preliminary 2013 budget proposes to shift three East End county health centers into the Federally Qualified Health Centers program, known as FQHC.

County officials said Hudson River HealthCare — a federally operated, not-for-profit group with a network of 18 community health centers throughout the state and an office in Greenport — is being considered to take over county health centers in Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton as well as The Maxine S. Postal Tri-Community Health Center in Amityville.

There are currently no plans to move remaining western Suffolk county health centers out from under the county’s jurisdiction.

Mr. Bellone said the move will save the county money because it will shift the overall cost of medical malpractice to the federal government. He maintained it will also improve the level of care by offering longer hours and providing dental services.

The executive said budget limitations prevent the county from achieving these types of offerings and believes expanding additional health centers to FQHCs will enhance services at a lower cost.

South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), whose district includes the Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton county health centers, said he agrees the county should look into the FQHC model because it will save the county money while increasing the quality of health care.

If approved, he said, the plan could go into effect as early as March.

“I like the federal model much better than what we have now,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I think it will improve the level of service to our residents.”

North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said he’s opposed to moving quickly because he hasn’t seen any information that warrants such a change.

He said the decision to transfer the county’s health center in Coram to Hudson River HealthCare was a special case because it was the only alternative to keep it open. Former County Executive Steve Levy cut the funding for that facility in his 2012 budget and a partnership with Stony Brook University Medical Center didn’t come to fruition.

Mr. Romaine said an evaluation of how well the Coram health center is doing under Hudson River HealthCare hasn’t been completed and he hasn’t seen any information showing that the Riverhead health center and the two South Fork satellite offices face the same financial peril.

“I haven’t seen any information showing the Riverhead health center isn’t financially viable,” he said. “I have grave concerns because, at first blush, [Mr. Bellone] hasn’t provided any compelling information.”

County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Mr. Bellone’s office held a conference call June 28 with legislators to discuss the county health center overhaul recommendation.

Although an official evaluation of the Hudson River HealthCare takeover of the Coram site six months ago hasn’t been completed, Ms. Baird-Streeter said a steering committee will help the county decide the feasibility of switching other health centers to the federal model.

Other recommendations in Mr. Bellone’s proposed $2.77 billion spending plan, which freezes general fund taxes and doesn’t call for any layoffs, include increasing the county police district budget by $12.4 million next year to fund a new police class of 75 officers in September. Only households in western Suffolk County towns will see the $27 hike in their tax bill to support the increase, since East End towns run their own police forces. The county passed a similar tax increase last year to pay for a new police recruiting class of 80 officers.

Earlier this year the county laid off 658 employees and approved two controversial deals to sell the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility and surplus land in Yaphank. Mr. Bellone said those decisions will help the county close its budget gap. Financial experts estimated in March that the county’s three-year shortfall will be large as a $530 million.

“While we are making the tough choices to address the problems that have accumulated over the years, we must remain vigilant,” Mr. Bellone said in a press release. “My proposed 2013 budget is balanced, holds property taxes under the New York State tax cap, includes no general fund tax increase and will not lay off any additional employees … I look forward to working with the Suffolk County Legislature to enact this fiscally responsible budget.”

Mr. Romaine, who is the GOP candidate in this year’s race for Brookhaven Town supervisor, said he plans to draft amendments to restore funding for East End Arts’ annual Winterfest event and for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County programing. Those amounts weren’t immediately available.

The Legislature is expected to vote on the preliminary budget Nov. 7, the day after Election Day.

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08/27/12 7:00pm
08/27/2012 7:00 PM

FILE PHOTO | Legislator Ed Romaine (R – Center Moriches) as announced he will seek to run for Brookhaven Town Supervisor this fall.

Brookhaven Town Republicans have nominated North Fork county Legislator Ed Romaine to run for Brookhaven supervisor in a special election this fall, party leaders announced this week.

The committee’s vote to choose Mr. Romaine, of Center Moriches, was unanimous, GOP officials said.

“The Brookhaven Town Republican Committee unanimously supports Ed Romaine as our candidate for town supervisor,” said committee chairman Jesse Garcia. “Ed Romaine is a proven tax fighter who will ‘Reinvent Brookhaven’ and ensure Brookhaven is an affordable place to raise a family, create private sector jobs, grow our local economy, and ensure the rural character of our communities are protected.”

“I am humbled to have the support of the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee,” Mr. Romaine said. “I have lived, raised my family, and paid taxes in this town for more than 40 years. I am committed to making Brookhaven a better place to live and work.”

Democratic Town Supervisor Mark Lesko announced his resignation earlier this month. He’s stepping down to lead Accelerate Long Island, a nonprofit organization.

Mr. Lesko helped found the group, which seeks to make Long Island more appealing to tech startup companies

Mr. Lesko’s resignation comes just before a difficult financial season for the town, which faces a multi-million dollar budget crisis. His resignation takes effect next month.

The Brookhaven Democratic Commitee last week nominated Brian Beedenbender, Mr. Lesko’s chief of staff and also a former county legislator, to run for the supervisor job.

Deputy Supervisor Kathy Walsh will be acting supervisor in Mr. Lesko’s absence, officials said.

Mr. Romaine was a teacher before serving in Brookhaven’s housing and community development department in the 1980s.

From 1986 to 1989, he served as a county legislator and was later elected to Suffolk County Clerk, where he served until 2005.

That year, he was again elected to the Suffolk County Legislature and currently serves the First Legislative District, which reaches from eastern Brookhaven along the North Fork, including Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island town.

Mr. Lesko’s resignation will take effect in September. The special election will be held on Nov. 6.

The winner would be sworn in right after Election Day, with a vote for the legislative seat taking place 60 to 90 days later.

Mr. Romaine would be able to continue serving as a county legislator if he loses the town supervisor race.

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08/23/12 12:00pm
08/23/2012 12:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | A state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax is unconstitutional.

Local lawmakers are celebrating this morning following a state Supreme Court decision Wednesday calling the controversial Metropolitan Transit Authority payroll tax unconstitutional.

Many legislators have challenged the fairness of the tax since its inception, claiming that eastern Long Island receives paltry service from the MTA. Approved in 2009, the tax imposed a .34 percent levy on payroll for all employers, including schools and governments, in New York City and the seven surrounding suburban counties.

In June 2011, the state Senate, which has a narrow Republican majority, passed a bill to repeal the MTA payroll tax, but the legislation didn’t pass in the Democratically dominated Assembly.

Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who sponsored a bill to have Suffolk join Nassau County’s lawsuit, described the recent decision as “wonderful.”

“This is an illegal tax never that should never have been imposed,” Mr. Romaine said Thursday morning on his way to Mineola for a press conference about the court’s ruling.

Mr. Romaine called the MTA payroll tax “wrong, morally and legally” because East End service was cut after the tax was imposed. Since that time, Mr. Romaine said the tax has cost Suffolk County $10 million and $150 million for small businesses in the county

Mr. Romaine said although he’s pleased with the court’s recent decision, he believes the fight isn’t over because the next step would be local municipalities and business owners getting reimbursed from paying the tax over the past few years.

MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in a statement the MTA will “vigorously appeal” the decision.

“We believe this opinion will be overturned, since four prior challenges to the constitutionality of the law making the same argument have been dismissed,” he said.

State Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said Thursday he’s “thrilled” about the decision and believes it will be upheld upon appeal.

“Myself and my colleagues have been fighting this egregious tax and I think [the decision] is certainly a step toward its complete removal,” Mr. Losquadro said.

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08/23/12 6:00am

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Ed Romaine goes about his lawmaking business at a recent Suffolk County Legislature meeting in Riverhead.

A quick glance at the Suffolk County legislative district map reveals that only one representative’s territory stretches all the way from the North to the South shore.

It’s a very narrow line, but at that one point, from Wading River to Center Moriches, one legislator represents residents from Long Island Sound to Moriches Bay.

That legislator is our very own representative, Ed Romaine, who lives in Center Moriches.

So for the past six-plus years, the North Fork has been represented in the county Legislature by a South Shore resident from Brookhaven Town.

This hasn’t been an issue … so far. Mr. Romaine has worked tirelessly since his 2006 swearing-in and has been an effective legislator for his entire district. He’s made land preservation and public transportation — important topics on the North Fork — two of his signature issues.

Mr. Romaine has done us good, and this newspaper has supported him with an endorsement in each of his four campaigns.

Now Mr. Romaine is considering a run for the soon-to-be vacant Brookhaven Town supervisor seat. If he receives his party’s nomination, he’ll have a good shot at beating likely Democratic nominee Brian Beedenbender.

What we fear is that the North Fork could soon be represented by someone with no real connection to this area; someone who wouldn’t work quite as hard as Mr. Romaine has to make sure we’re represented effectively in Suffolk County.

Even more troubling is the fact that the new county redistricting plans, which don’t go into effect until 2014, have already been finalized, so any hope that the district could be redrawn to better serve the North Fork is lost.

The current district lines have never made any sense, apart from the fact that they were drawn in a way that enabled Mr. Romaine to represent the East End all these years.

It seems more logical that Center Moriches share a district with Moriches and East Moriches than with Greenport. It also would appear to make more sense for Wading River and Shoreham to share a district than the current arrangement, which aligns Wading River with the likes of Peconic and matches Shoreham with Coram. While that latter scenario certainly rhymes, it is without reason since Wading River and Shoreham currently share a school district.

These district boundaries didn’t bother us so much last election, when they enabled Mr. Romaine to continue representing us in the Legislature, but the possibility of a change on the horizon highlights just how oddly the county jigsaw pieces fit.

Should Mr. Romaine move on to Brookhaven Town government, we hope whoever replaces him pays as much attention to the needs of residents on the North Fork as he or she does to those in Brookhaven.

Council district gerrymandering doesn’t hurt so much when you’re represented well, but our communities could be facing years of being overlooked and underserved if our next legislator’s focus leans toward another spot on the map.

08/20/12 8:00am
08/20/2012 8:00 AM

JOHN GRIFFIN FILE PHOTO | Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko delivers his State of the Town address in 2010. Mr. Lesko’s resignation in Brookhaven could spell change locally.

Whenever an elected town official resigns mid-term it has the potential to drastically shake up the political landscape in that town. It’s rare, however, that such a resignation can impact several towns.

That’s certainly the case though with last week’s announcement that Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko is stepping down next month.

What will make the resulting special election even more interesting is that it comes in a non-local year, giving every elected official in Brookhaven Town outside of Ken LaValle, Dan Losquadro and Dean Murray the opportunity to pursue the seat with no risk of losing their current post. [Both Mr. Losquadro and Mr. Murray might seek the seat anyway.]

Considering that Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine of Center Moriches is already the reported GOP favorite, according to Newsday, the election could have an impact on residents of Riverhead and Southold towns.

The North Fork Legislator seems a logical choice for Republicans. He’s a savvy pol with old-school charm and he’s been incredibly popular in recent elections for County Legislature. He’s also served countywide as a County Clerk.

The position might also interest Mr. Romaine as he nears the county term limit, and has spent each of his terms in the political minority on the Legislature.

Hurting Mr. Romaine’s chances might be the losses he suffered in the two largest elections of his political career, a bid for County Executive and Congress. A good portion of his voting base is outside of Brookhaven, too.

The GOP has a fairly deep pool of candidates to choose from with two Republican State Assemblyman living in Brookhaven, Dan Losquadro of Shoreham and Dean Murray of Patchogue; the leading contender off the Brookhaven Town Board, Councilman Dan Panico of Shirley; and another County Legislator in Thomas Muratore of Ronkonkoma.

That’s a decent pool of proven candidates in a year where the Suffolk GOP is already excited about its chances to grab a seat in the House of Representatives with St. James businessman Randy Altschuler back on the ballot after being narrowly defeated in 2010.

In fact, Mr. Lesko’s timing couldn’t have been worse for Suffolk Democrats, who were already looking to spend big to keep Congressman Tim Bishop in office.

Now they’ll have to raise even more money to keep control of the largest town in the county, where Mr. Lesko’s seat currently gives them a one-vote majority.

Newsday reports that Former Assemblyman Marc Alessi of Shoreham and Mr. Lesko’s top aide, Brian Beedenbender, are among the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination. Considering Mr. Alessi and Mr. Beedenbender lost their most recent elections — to Mr. Losquadro and Mr. Muratore, respectively — that’s not a great sign for the Democrats. Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri is also in the mix, but he comes with his own set of political baggage.

On the flip side, the other two townwide elected leaders in Brookhaven, John Rouse and Patricia Eddington, have both won on the Democratic line. But would they really want to move away from those two cozy posts?

Perhaps the Democrats’ best opportunity comes with having President Barrack Obama and Congressman Tim Bishop on the ballot, enabling their candidate to receive trickle-down votes from incumbents at the top of the ticket.

The fact that this special election comes in a presidential year, where voters are twice as likely to visit the polls, makes just about anything possible.

And should it be Mr. Romaine who earns the GOP nomination and ultimately the supervisorship, that could mean more than just a change in our local leadership on the County Legislature if local officials pursue his seat.

Just think about all the posts that could change hands at the town level if, say, one of the North Fork town supervisors pursued Mr. Romaine’s seat.

No matter how things shake out, the situation in Brookhaven is certainly worth keeping an eye on from out here.

Grant Parpan is the executive editor for Times/Review Newsgroup. He covered Brookhaven Town politics from 2006 to 2011 as a reporter and editor of the former North Shore Sun newspaper.

08/17/12 10:00am
08/17/2012 10:00 AM

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | With no solar power installation on the horizon, the field above long-buried trash in Cutchogue will remain as is.

There will be no electricity flowing from the old town dump.

Officials announced this week that the Long Island Power Authority has pulled the plug on Southold’s proposal to build a 2.6 megawatt solar array at the capped Cutchogue landfill.

The town had hoped to take advantage of LIPA’s plan to buy 50 megawatts of electricity from solar projects throughout Long Island at a rate of 22 cents per kilowatt/hour over the next 20 years.

During Tuesday’s Town Board work session Supervisor Scott Russell said LIPA was inundated with applications in the minutes after it opened up bidding on the solar projects.

Town attorney Martin Finnegan said Southold was competing against much larger projects and it didn’t seem to help that Southold submitted its application just 10 seconds after bidding opened.

“Hopefully they’ll reconsider the process,” Mr. Finnegan said.

Councilman Chris Talbot said it’s ironic that LIPA is struggling to add energy capacity to the East End but didn’t go with Southold’s project.

“You never know how things get chosen,” he said.

Mr. Russell said LIPA might have a higher comfort level with projects involving a developer they’ve worked with before, such as BP, which worked on a similar project several years ago at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The town had authorized international firm Sun Edison, which has completed two landfill solar installations, to do the work, and would have received a lease payment of $150,000 per year from the energy company.

Mr. Russell said he hopes to continue discussion of what the town can do in the future to promote large-scale solar energy installations.

Tick Task Force Forms

County Legislator Ed Romaine has launched a tick-borne disease task force and hopes the group will have its next meeting at Southold Town Hall in September.

Mr. Romaine, who appeared before the Town Board Tuesday, said he’s been discussing declaring ticks a “vector” insect, which transmits disease pathogens, with county vector control director Dominick Ninivagi. Vector control currently works primarily to control mosquito populations.

Mr. Romaine formed a similar task force aimed at helping residents with Lyme disease several years ago.

Included in the task force’s considerations will be the possibility of greater management of the deer population.

The supervisor said he’s been trying to get the state Department of Environmental Conservation to treat deer as pests, not wildlife.

Mr. Romaine is asking residents to petition the New York City delegation to the state Legislature to end its opposition to categorizing deer as pests.

FISH MARKET TO MOVE

The Southold Fish Market has lost its lease at Port of Egypt and plans to move to the site of the former Hollister’s Restaurant, just east of and across the street from the old Mill Creek Inn on Route 25 in Greenport.

Fish market owner Charles Manwaring told the Town Board Tuesday that he will need to sell fish out of a temporary trailer while he renovates the building.

The renovations will require site plan review from the Planning Board, but the Town Board voted Tuesday night to allow him to place the temporary trailer at the site.

“I understand I have to go through site plan and all of that,” said Mr. Manwaring.

Mr. Manwaring told the board he hopes to close on the property later this week.

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