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‘Boats Mean Votes’ At Yacht Club Debate 

Town Council candidate Tracey Edwards addresses a question during Meet the Candidates night at the Northport Yacht Club. From left, candidates Edwards, Mark Mayoka and Mark Cuthbertson.

It’s an old saying in Huntington – “boats mean votes.”

And it’s a point that Jackie Martin, the commodore of the Greater Huntington Council of Yacht and Boating Clubs, was all too happy to remind 10 candidates for town and county offices about during a Meet the Candidates night at the Northport Yacht Club last week.

“There is a good possibility that one out of every five people living in the town have some sort of a boat,” Martin said. “Our elected officials are very well aware of the type of economy and social networking that the boating community generates for the town.”

Moderated by Past Commodore Bill Saltzman, questions were drawn from a list supplied to each candidate before the debate. Saltzman hop-scotched around the panel to pose questions, giving panelists 4 minutes to respond.

While the Democratic town board slate touted their efforts to provide quality waterfront experiences in recent years, Republicans argued that a new majority on the town board would better be able to focus on cleaner water and better safety.

Right off the bat, the spotlight turned to boating safety legislation, a big issue in Huntington since July 4, 2012, when three children, including two Huntington residents, drowned after a cabin cruiser capsized in Oyster Bay Harbor.

Democratic Town Council candidate Tracey Edwards called for pulling boating safety stakeholders at all levels to create more uniform curriculum. She recalled the time her husband bought a boat at a trade show and immediately went sailing without taking a class to underscore the importance of boater education.

“My father is a policeman. He came over and saw his boat and said, ‘Hon, I love your husband, but don’t get on that boat because he doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing,’” she said, to laughs, later adding, “You shouldn’t be able to buy a boat without having a boating class.”

On the topic of water quality, Councilman Mark Mayoka, a first-term Republican seeking re-election, called for additional funding for catch basins as opposed to filters, which he said would create “onerous” labor and replacement costs.

“Storm water runoff has gotten worse, and it is incumbent upon us to build additional catch basins because that’s really the solution to preventing the pesticides and other storm water runoff from going down into the harbors and destroying the harbors,” Mayoka said.

In his opening statement, Mayoka touted his efforts to have the town hire Ed Carr to serve as the town’s director of Maritime Services.

“The first thing I noticed when I was elected is that we didn’t have a full-time director of Maritime Services, and I knew that was very important,” he added.

Seeding oysters in Huntington Harbor may be another source of environmental relief. Huntington Councilman Gene Cook – an Independence Party member running for supervisor – called for changes to town code that would allow the board to lease portions of Huntington Harbor to private business owners.

“Oysters and clams can filter the water – 50 gallons per day, per oyster or clam. It’s a tremendous natural resource and we absolutely need it to clean our harbors,” Cook said.

Private enterprise, he added, offers other benefits.

“We could actually use those oysters to feed the town and, even great oyster festivals,” he said.

Commack attorney Josh Price, a Republican running for town board, argued Cuthbertson, Petrone and the Democratic majority have failed because they are out of touch after being in office too long.

“It should not be OK that the north shore of Huntington is the dirtiest water along Long Island,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment to the entire town… If it would make our water cleaner to seed Huntington Harbor, we should do it, and that it’s not done is awful.”

But Petrone and Cuthbertson shot back that Price’s criticism slights the work the boating community has done to improve and preserve water quality in Huntington Harbor.

“We have great waters in this town because of you,” Petrone said to the audience. “They’re not dirty. It’s not the worst water on the north shore. You’ve kept them clean. It’s you that have done the pump-out stations and have had the pump-out boats and insisted we do that.”

Petrone also said that if the town is to expand shellfish seeding, it should be through a public organization like the Cornell Cooperative.

Cuthbertson said the town has made major commitments to water quality improvements – by upgrading the town’s sewage treatment plant in Huntington Harbor and pushing the state to overhaul Route 110 in Halesite.

“I’d hate to think that our efforts on water quality have been an embarrassment,” Cuthbertson said. “There have been extensive efforts, and they’re extensive efforts because you’ve been there asking us to do that. You’ve demanded that.”

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