Dealing with the phone company can be challenging, even when it’s just an error on the phone bill. Dealing with the phone company when there’s a telephone pole that needs to be moved off of a busy highway is a very daunting task.
But that’s exactly what Tony Toscano’s first mission was when he took over as superintendent of the village of Muttontown in 2008.
“At the entrance to the village hall, there was a telephone pole that had been there for over 40 years. It was very dangerous, because if a car was going out of the village hall, there was no room for another car to come in at the same time. The telephone pole was in the way. The incoming car had to wait at the shoulder on the main highway, where the speed limit is 55 miles per hour. We could have had a serious accident,” Tony explained.
“I said, ‘When I take over I’m going to get this pole moved one way or another,’ and that was my mission. After four months, it was moved at no cost to the village.”
But getting it moved was no simple task.
“The electric company had to move their wires and the phone company had to move their wires. All these companies had to agree to do it, and it took some doing. I don’t know if I spoke to the right person or had the right timing, but it got done, and that was one of my best days as highway superintendent.”
A Beautiful Place
Tony truly loves the village of Muttontown, not only because of its beautiful landscape, natural trees and “country feel” but also because he’s been working there since he was a teenager.
“I moved to Muttontown in 2001,” he said, “But I’ve had an attachment to the village for much longer. I remember as a 13- or 14-year-old working pulling weeds and picking up bricks for my uncle just a block from where I live now. We didn’t have those fancy machines we have now. We used our hands. It brings back memories.”
Tony lived in other areas for many years, because he and his wife didn’t want to uproot their children while they were in school, but he has always believed Muttontown was the right place for him to end up.
“What a coincidence the way it worked out. It was just meant to be,” he said. “About six months before I purchased my current house, I was doing a job for one of my best friends, Mike Ferrari. I said, ‘Michael if you don’t like [the way the work turns out], I will buy your house.’”
Unfortunately, Tony did a great job, and Mike wanted to keep his house, but just a few months later, Tony was able to buy the house across the street from his friend.
“We pulled up to the driveway and I said, ‘This is what we’re looking for.’ I didn’t even need to see the inside,” Tony said. “Things happen a certain way at times and when they do you have to be able to make a decision. I felt like I knew 80 percent of the streets in Muttontown, because I had worked on them with my uncles over the years and it just felt like I was at home when I walked up to my house.”
Tony commented on Muttontown’s historical attractions, on the wooded areas with plants and wildlife, on the horse trails that zigzag the countryside and on the many horse shows and equestrian events.
“There are a lot of things to do, even though you’re not in the city,” he said. “I’d have to say it’s a beautiful place.”
A Love of Machines
Tony moved to Westbury, N.Y., from Italy when he was 10 years old. As a teenager, he often worked with his uncles, who owned a landscaping construction company.
“My favorite part was trying to drive the trucks and use the equipment — and using the equipment they told me not to,” he said. “I was very interested in anything mechanical.”
Tony is still interested in equipment and he’s gotten much better at using it since he was a child. In fact, as president of a construction company for many years, he has operated many types of machines.
“I like excavators, backhoes and payloaders. I owned two of them and operated them for many years. I feel like they are an extension of my hand,” he said. His construction company did paving, drainage and other jobs related to construction.
“I enjoyed working with the machines and solving the problems at hand.”
His experience in the industry helps him in his job as highway superintendent.
“My job has to do with building, looking at roadways and solving problems. Because of my experience, I can figure out how to do it in the most economical way. We just finished a roadway and I knew what areas had to be done, where to raise the grade, where to lower the grade. The contractor knew that I knew. Whatever we were discussing I knew how long it should take approximately.”
Tony’s knowledge of construction is how he got the job.
“The person before me, Raz Tafuro, had the job for 40 years. He brought me to one of the boards. After they saw what I knew about construction they asked me to join as an assistant, which Raz had requested. Two years later Raz retired and the mayor appointed me.”
Village Hall Drive
Raz had been with the village for 40 years when he retired, and his coworkers were sad to see him go.
“Raz always said that the residents come first and that’s what our job is,” Tony said. “Even though he was 80 years old when he retired, he never parked in front of the highway building, because he said that’s where the residents should park. He always parked 150 feet away and walked, which I do also.”
When Raz retired, the entrance street to the village hall was called Village Hall Drive, the very street that had had the annoying telephone pole on it. Besides getting the pole removed, Tony also improved the name of the street.
“I spoke with the mayor and said, ‘We should dedicate this road to Raz.’ The mayor and the trustees approved it. He was very happy and his name will live there forever.”
A Pond Made of Clay
Tony’s years of experience in construction have led him to the conclusion that drainage is very important.
“I’m a stickler for drainage,” he said. “If you don’t establish drainage from day one, you’re going to have problems with the road.”
Currently, the highway department is working on Muttontown Road, where a low point in the road causes water to spill into a resident’s pond. To make matters worse, the floor of the pond is composed of hardpan, a mixture of clay and rock, which does not let water through.
“It’s a difficult situation, because this is the lowest point in the roadway, and the ground is not suitable for drainage.”
The solution is old-fashioned digging — and a lot of it.
“A contractor is digging down 50 feet to get through the hardpan and into normal soil. We are going to install dry wells and pipes and bring gravel to fill it in. The homeowner is so grateful, because he’s been trying to get this done for over 20 years.”
Tony said the project will prevent future problems.
“The mayor is very happy, because I explained to her that if this work had been done 10 or 20 years ago, we could have had a drainage infrastructure in place already. If we wait another five years, it’ll cost another 15 or 20 percent, so by doing the project now, we are saving money, and we are making a resident happy.”
A Canopy of Trees
Trees make Muttontown beautiful.
“The reason people move to this village is because it is 30 minutes from Manhattan, but it has a country look. It looks very pristine and it has a natural canopy of trees.”
For this reason, it is important to keep the trees healthy and plentiful. But trees can also be nemeses in Muttontown.
“If a tree is dying it can be dangerous,” Tony said. “Sometimes, they fall in the middle of the street or onto a resident’s property.”
Early last year Tony implemented a tree removal program for trees that were approaching the end of their lifespans. In addition to improving safety, this approach also saves taxpayers’ money.
“Most homes have mature trees and the trees can be 60 or 70 feet high. A lot of them are not in good health. I try to anticipate before they hit the ground, because when they fall, it’s double the cost to remove them.”
But Tony wants to make sure healthy trees stay intact.
“I get the arborist’s opinion before cutting trees down. One of the utility companies wanted to cut trees, because they are in the way of some wires. I called the arborist to look at them. Out of the eight trees, we were able to save three. We try to be careful, but when it comes to safety, we cut them down immediately if they’re going to fall on the road or on a biker.”
In Muttontown, though, what comes down, must also go up.
“Whatever healthy trees come down over 100 inches, we replace them with new trees. We ask residents to replant any trees they cut down. The village is also instituting a replanting plan for dying trees.”
In July, Tony passed an ISA Certified Arborist test. This gives him detailed knowledge of how to evaluate and care for the trees.
A Very Special Ford
A significant day in Tony’s career came in February, when the village purchased its first piece of equipment in the 76-year history of the highway department — a Ford F250 with an 8-ft. snowplow.
“I had to explain to the mayor and trustees why the equipment was a good investment. Before, we had a 4 by 4 utility vehicle, but I wanted something with a plow. If I’m driving these roads I want to clear the snow while I’m doing it.”
Tony said he can sometimes begin plowing before the plowing contractors can.
“We have a contractor with six plows that does a great job, but sometimes it can take four or five hours before they can start. If I start right away and plow some of the snow before it turns to ice, that saves us a lot of money, because removing ice is much more expensive than removing snow.”
Tony said it took a year and a half to convince the village board to buy a snowplow. His own 2004 Chevy 2500 with plow helped him make the case.
“I have my own vehicle with a plow on it, so I showed them how helpful it was.”
Tony broke the new Ford F250 in right away.
“I put the plow on the new truck February 28, and we had a big storm on March 1 to 3. In two or three hours, everything was plowed. It could have taken seven hours [if I hadn’t had the truck], so it was really a good investment.”
Tony said the problem is that the village has 40 to 50 cul de sacs.
“They take a long time to plow. Sometimes you have to break it up into angles, because the roadway is round. [I was] plowing cul de sacs and touching them up with the truck.”
The truck also will be used to collect branches, and perhaps to sand roads as well.
A Salt Shed of Their Own
There’s another method Tony wants to use to beat the snow also.
“Our winters can be very tough at times, because we don’t have a salt storage [facility]. Oyster Bay was gracious enough to let us keep our salt at their facility, but to get the salt, the loader operator must be at the Oyster Bay facility to load my truck, because we can’t use their equipment. Sometimes it can be an hour and a half or two hours before I get the salt, which means that sometimes, we can’t apply the salt until the snow is too thick.”
Tony said it’s important to apply salt when about 1/8 inch of snow is on the ground. If the snow is 2 or 3 inches thick, the salt melts the snow at the top and mixes with the resulting water. The salt water is then too diluted to melt the rest of the snow. It either mixes with the snow and forms slush or, if it is very diluted, it freezes with a dangerous icy surface, making the application of salt pointless.
This is also what happens when no salt is applied. The snow melts and freezes, forming ice that is not safe to drive on. Unfortunately, the snow sometimes turns to ice before Tony can get salt. This happened in a recent 11-inch storm.
“Removing ice is much more expensive than removing snow. If we had our own salt facility we’d have saved $30,000 or $35,000 in this storm,” Tony said.
Tony purchased 200 tons for 2010, and it needs to be stored. He would like to store it at the highway department, so that his contractors will always have access to it as soon as the village needs it.
“You can store [the salt] outside, but you will lose a lot of it to rain. We really want it covered,” he said.
But where can he set up a covered salt shed? Tony has the perfect place — an old barn outside the highway department building.
“We have two big horse barns that we use for storage — cones, signs, etc. I’d like to convert one into a salt shed.”
The salt shed would be 1,269 sq. ft. and would would house enough salt to get Muttontown through the winter.
Tony suggested this plan in June 2008 and things were looking up, but when Tony and James Sinno, the village building inspector, went to look at the barn, they found a problem.
“We were going to dig 2 or 3 feet and place the posts, but we found out that the barn was sitting on a stone only about 2 or 3 inches. We can’t dig posts that [shallow]. It’s not safe.”
The problem increases the price tag of the project from about $28,000 to between $50,000 and $55,000.
“It doesn’t have a safe foundation, so I proposed to the engineer that we put cement walls on the inside of the barn, and he said that was a great idea. Unfortunately, it brought the cost up about 75 percent.”
Still safety is always the top priority and a storage shed without a proper foundation would not be safe.
“It’s not even solid. It’s stone rubble. Once you start bringing a payloader [or a skid steer] in there with vibrations, it needs a protective wall inside. That way you don’t drop the barn down,” Tony explained.
The barn currently has posts holding the attic. In the finished storage shed, two steel beams will replace these posts and a cement floor and wall will stabilize the building.
The cement walls solve another problem too.
“[The village] didn’t want a steel structure outside, because it would look too commercialized. My predecessor wanted to bring in a new structure, but [the village] didn’t want that look.”
Commercialized, modern structures do not appeal to the people of Muttontown. Residents go out of their way to keep an old-fashioned “country” look.
“The village of Old Westbury had a new barn and they made it look like an old barn on purpose. We have an old barn and it looks like an old barn, so we don’t want to ruin that.”
Adding cement walls on the inside but keeping old-fashioned walls on the outside solves the problem.
The foundation problem is delaying the salt shed project.
“The town has been very generous to us. If worst comes worst we’ll have to tell them that we need a little more time,” he said. “I’m going to get it done one way or the other, but it might not be this year.”
Traditional salt is a great way to keep the roads safe and clear for commuters, but it has faced scrutiny over the last decade, because it is hard on the environment.
“Salt is very corrosive,” Tony said.
It can damage populations of frogs, salamanders, snails and other creatures that can’t tolerate high levels of sodium. Salt sometimes washes into local streams and lakes. Since most freshwater creatures cannot survive in a suddenly salty environment, it adversely affects marine life.
Finally, salt that settles in soil near the roadside creates drought-like conditions for plants, because the salt absorbs water and creates compacted soil, which prevents oxygen and water from reaching plants’ roots.
There are products that reduce the ecological hazards of salt.
“One is coated with brine from sugar beets.”
The chemicals from the sugar beets make the salt friendlier to the environment.
“I’ve been looking into these products and the trustees, mayor and residents are very favorable to the idea, but of course everything is at a cost. In these somewhat challenging times, everything comes down to dollars and cents.”
Still Tony is hopeful. One solution may be to use normal salt on normal roads, but use an alternative salt on hilly roads. Normal roads are safer and more level, so a smaller amount of salt can be used on them and still render them safe.
On hilly roads, more salt of a higher quality is needed, because even a small amount of ice on a hill can create a safety risk.
“On hilly roads, you get more accidents when people jam on the brakes,” Tony said.
Another advantage to the alternative salts is that they work at a lower temperature than normal salt.
“Once you go below about 15 degrees regular salt won’t work anymore, but this product works below zero,” Tony said.
Bursting Drainpipes and 24-Hour Cell Phones
One morning, Tony arrived at work to find a surprising call.
“A resident left us a message to say that water was gushing out into the roadway. One of the drainpipes had broken. I didn’t get the call until the morning. If I had heard about it 10 hours earlier, we could have saved a lot of money.”
Tony’s solution was to implement a 24-hour cell phone so that residents could call him if there was an emergency.
“It allows me to help the residents right away when something happens. During the ice storm, the sand we had on the roads got covered with ice, so we got three or four calls and I sent someone out immediately with more sand.”
The cell phone also has received congratulatory phone calls.
“It has worked not only for complaint issues, but also for people saying, ‘job well done.’”
This was not the only drainpipe that has ever burst in the village. In another instance, Tony didn’t need his cell phone. He had his eyes to guide him through the crisis.
“I was deputy and I was driving down the highway at 6 in the morning. I saw water coming down the roadway. It was a main that had burst. Immediately I called the subs in. Before the police called me, we were ready.”
Tony’s psychic powers surprised the police.
“Everyone wanted to know how I knew about it so quickly. I just happened to see it,” he said.
A One-Man Show
Tony is the only full-time “highway guy,” though he’d like to add another couple of employees at some point.
“I would like someone that could do small repairs, tree cutting and pruning, a little cement here, a little cement there, signs. That’s the sort of person I would need.”
Tony believes the village would save money and would get more personalized service.
“The mayor is entertaining the idea. We already figured out some numbers, so we are thinking about this very closely, but anything you propose takes time. The mayor has to make sure to do what’s best for residents, so she weighs the advantages and disadvantages carefully.”
Tony has an excellent relationship with local contractors and he plans to continue working with them on big jobs, but he wishes he had a staff to help with small jobs.
“When there’s something in the roadway, for example, it takes time and money for a sub to remove it. I usually have a chainsaw, so I have no problem getting branches off the roadway if I see them. It’s not in my job description, but I don’t believe in waiting for someone when I can do it.”
Of course Tony can’t always do it. Sometimes debris is too large to move without the right equipment. But as long as it’s a manageable size, Tony will take care of it. With many years in landscaping and many more in construction, he is not afraid to get his hands dirty.
“Everybody knows who I am. I don’t go to work with a suit on,” he said. “That’s not my job, but I’m not going to let the highway department pay $90 or $100 to pick up a branch off the roadway. I cannot justify it.”
Debris in the roadway is one of the reasons Tony believes a payloader would be a good investment for the village.
“We could do some of these small jobs ourselves instead of paying contractors. Contractors are great for big jobs, but it is too expensive to hire a contractor every time there’s a tree in the road. I would like to take care of that ourselves.”
A Great Team
Tony said the village and its mayor, Julianne Beckerman, have been a tremendous asset for him.
“I am very grateful for the mayor and the trustees, because I want to do the right thing and they do too,” Tony said. “The mayor listens to whatever situation I have. She doesn’t agree 100 percent of the time, but the important things we agree on. Safety is the most important. We understand that it’s a village. It is people’s money we’re spending and we have to spend it wisely, so I am very grateful for her.”
Another person Tony sometimes works with is James Siino, the village’s building inspector.
“James really does nice work with the highway department. He inspects the buildings. I am working with him on the salt shed.”
The village’s clerk, Lisa Lolis, is an asset to the department as well.
“She is very receptive any time we need anything, even if it’s after hours. The whole office works together to accomplish goals for the residents.”
Ahead of the Curbs
With years of experience in the construction industry, Tony understands roads, and one thing that he understands all too well is that they sometimes fall apart.
Road repairs are an important part of a highway superintendent’s job. To keep the roads in good condition, Tony has suggested that the village add curbs to streets that don’t already have them.
“Curbing holds the roadway together,” he said. “I have pictures showing one side of a roadway that had curbing and it held up. The other side did not have curbing and it fell apart.”
They are right across the street from one another.
In particular, Tony favors mountable curbing, which is installed at an angle — almost like the entrance to a driveway.
“The roadways are very narrow, so if an emergency vehicle or another vehicle has to pass, it can climb [the mountable curb] because it’s at an angle. When you have narrow roadways, you need the ability to pull off of the roadway.”
The curbing has already been installed at Muttontown Road and Raz Tafuro Way.
Tony also suggested an improvement to the way roads are touched up.
“In the past, the roadways were partially done. Wherever there was a problem, we would fix that 150-foot portion of the road, but my concept was that we should do the entire 500 feet of roadway, because if you just do 150 feet, you’ll have to do it again two years later. Split paving leaves an uneven grade with openings. It’s better to just finish the job.”
A Network of Subs
The highway department has a longstanding relationship with several local contractors.
“We have John MacGowan and Sons, which has been contracting with us for the last 15 years. They are a great roadwork company. They even donated the curbing for one of our jobs. For plowing, we use Horan Sand and Gravel. They’ve been doing the plowing for about 20 years now. They do a wonderful job too.”
For drainage work in certain difficult areas, the village is grateful to have DC Crane Services of Bayville, N.Y.
“In our village there is a lot of clay and you sometimes have to dig 50, 60, 70 feet to get through it. Excavators can only dig 25 feet or so, but cranes can dig much deeper,” Tony explained.
Sidney B. Bowne is the village’s engineering company and Tony had a lot of praise for it as well.
“There is one engineer there named George Style. He’s been working with the village as a representative for at least 35 years. He’s the one who designed the drainage on Muttontown and Ridge. He’s a great engineer.”
About the Village of Muttontown
The 6.1-sq.-mi. village of Muttontown is located on the north shore of Nassau County in the town of Oyster Bay. It is bordered on the west by the village of Brookville and on the east by the village of Oyster Bay Cove. North of Muttontown are the village of Upper Brookville and East Norwich. Manhattan is just 30 miles to the west.
Muttontown is an affluent village. According to MuniNetGuide.com, which summarizes U.S. Census information, the median household income was $216,615 in 2000.
The Great Sheep District
The first mention of Muttontown in Oyster Bay’s records occurred just after 1750, identifying it as a “former great sheep district.” The village got its name because English and Dutch settlers in the 1600s found the rolling hills ideal for grazing sheep.
The settlers had purchased the land from Native Americans in the 1600s, and for many years it was an agricultural area.
In 1776, when the revolutionary war took hold of the country, Oyster Bay, which includes Muttontown, became an important area politically. After the British defeated the American Army at the Battle of Long Island, Oyster Bay fell under British occupation, and Long Island was dominated by Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. British troops used Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay as their headquarters.
Still, patriots survived in secret in Oyster Bay. The original owner of Raynham Hall, Samuel Townsend, was arrested for supporting the patriots. Despite this, Samuel’s son, Robert Townsend, served as an undercover agent for General George Washington, using the name Samuel Culper Jr.
Townsend and his sister, Sally, secured information from a woman reported to be Towsend’s mistress. The information led to the exposure of Benedict Arnold’s plot to defect to the British and turn over West Point to their control.
During these fierce times, Oyster Bay was important from a military standpoint.
After the revolutionary war, Oyster Bay returned to agriculture and remained a quiet area through the 19th century.
In 1902, when Theodore Roosevelt became president, Oyster Bay was again foisted into the spotlight, because Roosevelt had a home in the area, which he used as his “summer white house.” At this time, wealthy families from New York City began to establish large homes in Oyster Bay, including Muttontown.
World War I and World War II changed Oyster Bay’s agricultural economy into an industrial economy and the area experienced another population boom. Since then, it has grown steadily. In 1950, the population of Muttontown was 382 people. In 2000, it was 3,412.
The Knollwood-Zog-Christie Estate
One of the homes built in the boom of the early 1900s was Knollwood estate. Wall Street Tycoon Charles I. Hudson Sr. commissioned the firm Hiss and Weeks to construct the 60-room mansion. Completed in 1907, Knollwood was an impressive mansion built with elements of Greek Revival, Italian Renaissance and Spanish styling.
In 1951, King Zog purchased the property for approximately $102,800. Zog had previously been king of Albania from 1928 to 1939.
When Mussolini invaded Albania on April 7, 1939, Zog and his family were forced into exile. They first moved to England and then to Egypt. In 1951, Zog purchased Knollwood estate, intending to and use it as his kingdom-in-exile, staffed by Albanian subjects.
But United States immigration authorities would only allow him to bring 20 subjects with him. After an unsuccessful attempt to bribe the U.S. Senate, Zog decided to make his home in France.
While Zog was arguing his case with U.S. Immigration, vandals looted Knollwood estate, which had been left empty. The vandals did more than $8,000 worth of damage. Zog finally sold the property in 1955 to Lansdell K. Christie, never having lived in it.
The vandalism continued for several years. In 1959, Christie razed the damaged main house, leaving only ruins, ruins that would one day be famous in the area. Over time, the county purchased about 400 acres of the estate from Christie to form the Muttontown Preserve.
The Muttontown Preserve
Today, the property from King Zog’s former castle makes up most of the Muttontown Preserve, a 550-acre preserve including fields, woodlands, ponds and estate grounds. It is the attraction for which Muttontown is best-known.
Miles of marked nature trails traverse the preserve, where visitors can observe hawks, owls, foxes, raccoons, salamanders, snakes, frogs and thousands of other animals as well as unusual geologic features and unique flora. Cross-country skiing trails are available in winter and, in the summer, visitors gather to watch the Perseid meteor shower in August.
The remains of the Knollwood-Zog-Christie estate also are prominently featured in the preserve. Towering gates leading to nowhere stand near ruined concrete fountains, Greek style gazebos and haunting, empty staircases that once led to the mansion.
There are other areas in the preserve as well and they hold valuable information about the history of Muttontown. The Winthrop Mansion, now called Nassau Hall, was built by Egerton L. Winthrop, a lawyer and prominent member of New York society in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The county acquired the Winthrop mansion in 1969 and it now houses the administrative offices of the Nassau County Museum.
Chelsea Estate and the Bill Paterson Nature Center
The Bill Paterson Nature Center and Chelsea estate are located on a 100-acre parcel donated by Alexandra Moore McKay. Mrs. Paul Hammond also donated a 20-acre parcel that contains evidence of a pre-Revolutionary farm, the Duryea Farm.
Muttontown’s first mayor, Benjamin Moore, and his wife, Alexandra Emery Moore, built Chelsea estate in 1924. Benjamin Moore died in 1938 and his wife continued to live in the 40-room mansion until her death in 1983. It is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Bill Paterson Nature Center is named for the naturalist who served as supervisor of the preserve from 1968 to 1992. It is a center for scientists and naturalists to study the unique ecosystem at Muttontown Preserve and to educate the public about nature and conservation.
The Hoffman Center
Muttontown residents believe in the importance of nature. In 1996, Marion O. and Maximilian E. Hoffman rescued a beautiful mansion from development into a 57-home subdivision. The mansion, now called the Hoffman Center, is a sanctuary of natural beauty.
Originally the estate of the George S. Brewster family, the 1914 Georgian-style mansion was designed to be a part of the forest, rather than be an intrusion.
In the 1970s the property was converted to a golf course and this continued until 1982, when the grounds were abandoned. Animals and plants took over the abandoned course and created a rich, diverse ecosystem with oak-brush, mixed deciduous trees, red-tailed hawks, egrets, herons, woodpeckers, pheasants, cottontail rabbits, box turtles, woodchucks, opossum, foxes, Canadian geese, bats, owls, raccoons, more than 49 species of butterflies and more than 140 resident and migrating birds.
Today, visitors can visit the Hoffman Center to learn about wildlife and wild plants.
Brookville Reformed Church
There is one other historic site located partially within the boundaries of Muttontown.
The Brookville Reformed Church, originally called the Reformed Dutch Church of Oyster Bay, was built in 1734. It is one of the oldest existing church congregations in the United States. It began as a Dutch-speaking church, but switched to English after the Civil War. P
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