Long Island’s precarious environmental situation has been a top priority of elected and local leaders for decades. The geography of the island and its regular experiences of weather extremes make it more susceptible to environmental concerns with potentially disastrous consequences, such as groundwater pollution, coastal erosion, and complex search-and-rescue efforts.

            The latest series of storms to batter Suffolk County are no exception and only prove how dangerous and expensive – in both and long and short term – unpredictable weather can be.

            In the latest move to aid search and rescue efforts in highly-affected areas, the Town of Brookhaven has transferred two highwater rescue vehicles to the fire departments of Port Jefferson Village and Mastic Beach. The vehicles are expected to greatly aid the search-and-rescue operations in these areas, mainly in light of extreme rain and flooding that made recent efforts extremely difficult.

            The Town announced the transfer at a press conference in front of Town Hall on Tuesday morning.

            “The marked increase in the frequency of these significant rain and flooding events present challenges for local fire departments,” said Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Center Moriches). “Two of our most vulnerable coastal communities are Mastic Beach and Port Jefferson, and their fire departments need the right tools to help keep residents safe. Accordingly, we are pleased to be able to help them do their job with the donation of these Highwater rescue vehicles.”

            The Town has transferred two Stewart and Stevenson Light Medium Tactical Vehicles (LMTV) to the opposite-shore areas, which have seen staggering amounts of flooding and erosion due to storms over the last several years, especially recently.

            LMTVs are four-wheel-drive tactical vehicles, usually employed by the U.S. military. Most have payload capacities of 5,000 pounds and towing capacities of 12,000 pounds, making them ideal for transporting people, troops, supplies, equipment, and smaller vehicles.

            In addition to the vehicles, Port Jefferson Village will also receive an inflatable boat for their department.

           There will be no cost to the taxpayers for the transfers of these vehicles, under Section 72-H of the General Municipal Law of the State of New York, which permits the sale, lease, and transfer of municipal properties to certain public entities. The vehicles can be returned to the Town in the future if they are not needed. The Port Jefferson and Mastic Beach Fire Departments have also agreed to use the vehicles to provide mutual aid in water rescue operations to other fire districts within the Town of Brookhaven.

             “There’s many reasons why this is a great day, but the real reason is collaboration between our Villages and this Township under Supervisor Panico’s leadership,” said Councilman and Deputy Supervisor Neil Foley (R-Blue Point). “I represent the Fifth District: all of Fire Island and parts of the South Shore, and believe me, the rain, the flood, the storms, the erosion is coming fast and furious. The fastest way we can combat that is through collaboration.”

           The resolution (2024-151) to transfer the vehicles was unanimously adopted by the Town Board at its February 1 meeting.

           “Unfortunately, our fire departments on the North and South Shores are experiencing more often than not situations and incidents where a water rescue is required,” said Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge). “So, this particular piece of apparatus is obviously helping to do what we do best in the fire service and that’s save lives. Thank you to the Town of Brookhaven and most of all, thank you to all members of the fire service for what it is that you do.”

           “I know that our Fire Department is very grateful, but I can’t tell you how important this relationship is to the Village of Port Jefferson, and we appreciate all of the interactions and all that the Town of Brookhaven does to support the Village,” said Port Jefferson Village Mayor Lauren Sheprow.

           Several local fire and emergency leaders and personnel were present at the announcement, including Mastic Beach Fire Commissioner Bill Biondi.

           “This is a great day for the residents of both Port Jeff and Mastic Beach,” said Biondi. “We tried to get one of these vehicles for the longest time. I’d like to thank the whole entire Town Board and Supervisor Panico for this great idea and giving us this vehicle. Nobody needs it more than us. We suffered almost four feet of water last month and we just have to help our residents the best we can.”

           Biondi served as mayor of the former Village of Mastic Beach from 2012 to 2015. Mastic Beach incorporated as a village in 2010 and dissolved in 2017.

           The Messenger caught up with Supervisor Panico after the conference to dig in deeper on the Town’s decision to transfer these vehicles.

           “It makes perfect sense to me from a logistical and economic focus to put the vehicles with the departments that experience the most flooding, and also are trained to use them,” said Panico. “But this is just one part of getting the town to its core mission. It helps out our fire departments and the fire department district taxpayers.”

           Panico mentioned that the Mastic Beach and Port Jefferson areas have always seen flooding, but that it’s become “exacerbated by rising sea levels, the frequency of the storms, and weather patterns regarding wind.”

           “It’s a good day in Brookhaven and it is proof positive that government can work together and make logical decisions with regard to how we serve our residents,” concluded Panico.

           Also present at Tuesday’s conference were Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) and Councilwoman Karen Dunne Kesnig (R-Manorville).

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Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.