Superintendent of Public Works Louis Massaro and the Village of Great Neck

Maura Bohart

Louis Massaro has lived in Long Island, N.Y., since he was a child and will probably live there for the rest of his life.

“I would like to stay on Long Island. I wouldn’t mind a vacation house somewhere else, but Long Island is my home and I would miss it if I weren’t here,” he said.

Long Island also would miss him, especially the roads in the village of Great Neck, where Louis has been department of public works (DPW) superintendent for six years.

Louis has been working for the village for 25 years. He began as a garbage collector and now he has the highest job in the department. Working with roads wasn’t his original plan, but life isn’t always predictable.

“It just evolved one step to the next step,” Louis explained, “and the next thing you know, I was a superintendent.”

Louis’s Great Neck career began after high school.

“I took business classes for one semester and my girlfriend’s brother asked me to fill in temporarily on a sanitation truck for two or three months.”

The two-month, temporary job lasted three years and wasn’t temporary at all. Louis could have stayed there forever, but he wanted to do more. He asked to switch to highway work.

“Sanitation — it was nice when you were young. You did your job, you went home, but in the highway department, they run equipment and there was more knowledge involved and better skills to pick up.”

He moved on to roads — and that’s where he’s been ever since. In 1989, the old deputy superintendent became superintendent in a neighboring village. The foreman moved up to the position of deputy superintendent and Louis took over the foreman job. A few years later, he became deputy superintendent and finally, he was appointed DPW superintendent.

His favorite aspect of the job is helping people.

“I like helping the residents,” he said. “I like being there and if I can help somebody, it doesn’t cost me anything to be nice.”

The Great Rabbit Rescue

Louis now spends his days supervising the department’s operations, both highway and sanitation, and helping the residents — as well as some other Great Neck residents.

“When I get to [the DPW garage], I start answering phone calls,” Louis said. “We get quite a few phone calls in a day. A typical call will be, ‘We have a rotten tree,’ or ‘There’s a pothole on my street.’”

But sometimes, he gets a call that’s not typical.

“We got one call that a rabbit was in the storm drain,” said Louis. “We went over there and [the deputy superintendent], Jimmy, lifted the storm drain up and we had a big rabbit rescue. The resident was happy.”

Besides rabbit rescue operations, Louis’s department is in charge of sanitation, general maintenance and highways, including road repairs, signs, garbage collection, recycling, tree trimming, leaf collection and snow plowing.

“We have 21 total crew members including me. Eight of them are sanitation guys and they just do sanitation work, but the highway guys mix around doing everything. They’re jacks-of-all-trades.”

Fighting the Elements

Great Neck gets approximately 18 inches of snow every year, and weather reports have a lot of power over Louis and his department. When a snowstorm approaches, Louis knows it’s important to be ready.

“We fuel up all the trucks, get all the plows out, make sure to have enough salt on hand. I have a salt shed, but we have to make sure to stockpile the salt. Otherwise, we couldn’t get through the storm. The night before the storm, we’ll load up the trucks.”

Although snow can sometimes be challenging, there is an even greater challenge in Great Neck — rain.

Great Neck gets, on average, 42 inches of rain per year, and sometimes, it gets much more. The village is 1.4 square miles and 0.4 square miles of that is water.

“There’s supposed to be 50-year storms,” Louis said, “which means it will only flood once every 50 years, but the last couple of years we’ve been getting more rain than usual. When there are flash storms, it causes problems.”

On Aug. 11, a flash flood caused property damage and scared some residents, because the water wouldn’t stop rising.

“Some parts of the village were built on marshy land where the soil doesn’t drain well,” explained Ralph J. Kreitzman, mayor of the village of Great Neck. “Also, the village’s drainage system is 60 or more years old, so it wasn’t built to modern standards. Also much of our storm water flows into town and county systems. We don’t have control over how those systems are maintained.”

To fight the water and prevent damage to residents’ property, Ralph created a task force comprised of all village department heads, the village’s hydrology engineer, the mayor and headed up by the village trustee.

But even before that, the village enacted laws requiring that new buildings and additions be built with proper drainage.

“Certain areas of our village cannot have basements, because of the water problems,” Ralph said. “Also, when a new home is built or expanded and it creates impervious surfaces (for example, a roof instead of grass) the water that falls on that surface has to be maintained on the property. We require them to do soil borings and install dry wells that contain the water. Then it is absorbed back into the soil.”

Of course, this only works for new properties.

The village task force, with the help of County Legislator Judi Bosworth, has gotten the county to address one major area of flooding, a county road. The county has hired an engineer and budgeted approximately $2,500,000 to fix that problem.

Massaro also wants to protect the residents, so his department is keeping a close eye on weather reports these days. If rain is coming, they know what they have to do.

“If there’s heavy rain, the guys will be out unclogging the drains and sweeping the streets to make sure the water stays in the drainage system where it’s supposed to be.”

His department also rents a special machine once a year and cleans the catch basins to ensure the water can drain properly. A kind of giant vacuum cleaner, the Vactor sucks dirt, leaves and debris out of the system. Just this year the village purchased its own video system so it can inspect troublesome pipes and underground areas.

Picking It Up, Throwing It Out

Residents don’t always understand that the purpose of a garbage truck is to pick garbage, not doors and other construction debris.

“Often they think that garbage is garbage, but we’re really there to pick up household garbage, not construction debris, although I will pick up [non-commercial] construction debris on a case-by-case basis,” Louis said. “If the neighbor changed his door and he did it himself, we help him out.”

Louis sometimes notices construction debris when he takes a tour of the village, which is how he usually starts his day.

“I check and see if anybody was doing any work the night before, if they ripped out any sidewalk anywhere, things like that,” Louis said. “I don’t necessarily drive down every street. I just take a little tour.”

Louis doesn’t drive down every street, as the 1.4-square-miles village has more than 26 lane center miles of roadways.

Garbage collection follows a four-day-a-week schedule in Great Neck. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, four sanitation routes set out on a mission to collect garbage with two men on each route. The routes consist of about 300 stops each. When they return, the streets are a little cleaner and the town of North Hempstead’s transfer station is a little fuller.

On Wednesdays, the same crew picks up the recycling, using a three-man-per-truck configuration with three routes. Recycling is taken very seriously by the village and by Louis and his men. Because the village uses its own crew, it is assured that recyclables are properly handled. In addition to requiring newspapers, cardboard, bottles and cans to be separated for weekly pick up, the village picks up and delivering or recycling large appliances, computers and certain other items.

Green Street

Middle Neck Road, the major business thoroughfare of the village, is a large road that runs through the center of the village. Approximately 30 years ago, a group of civic-minded individuals built decorative planters and placed them along the center island on Middle Neck Road. The plants looked attractive and absorbed carbon dioxide, countering some of the ecological effects of the cars themselves.

Thirty years later, in 2007, the greenery was still attractive, but it became too large and the planters were reaching its life expectancy. Also some planters were hit by cars and needed to be repaired.

The village’s Business and Improvements Committee asked the highway department to tackle the problem. Louis and his crew hit the street in Great Neck and began to replace, rebuild, repair and replant with native, special, decorative grasses, hybrid rose bushes and other plants.

“All of the work was done by Louis and his crew. The new planters and plantings are attractive and will be able to survive in a difficult environment,” said Ralph.

The Eco-Park

One project that Louis, and the rest of the village, is excited about is the new eco-park. A refuge for busy residents, the eco-park was conceived of several years ago and is nearly complete, with only small details, such as signs, remaining.

“It was a vacant area that the village had used as a transfer station for leaves, logs and that type of debris until the village stopped using it about 20 years ago,” Ralph explained.

The village decided to transform it — and at the same time, preserve it. It began planning an eco-park.

“It was the right thing to do,” Ralph said. “It was a way of reclaiming some property that was lying fallow. It preserves open space, and there are some streams and wetlands on it.”

Wetlands are carefully guarded by ecology-minded people because of their importance to the ecosystem, and the village of Great Neck is ecology-minded.

“There’s only one earth and when it disappears there’s not another one to replace it,” Ralph said. “We designed the eco-park with this in mind. We used Cumuru trees, which are planted to be harvested, so we didn’t kill any wild trees. The Cumuru trees are replanted after they are cut down.”

The Cumuru trees form the wood for the boardwalk. The wood is hard to work with, but makes an excellent boardwalk material.

“It’s a very dense Brazilian hardwood, so it’s difficult to saw through,” said Ralph, “and you can’t nail into it. You have to use screws. But it has many advantages. It doesn’t burn easily. It’s impervious to most insects. It doesn’t require maintenance. You don’t even have to treat it or put finish on it. It’s almost the perfect deck material. I mean how much wood has a life expectancy of 25 or more years?”

The project is being completed by local contractor Galvin Brothers Inc.

“We must bid these types of projects out and the winner was a local company,” said Ralph. “It’s always good to support local businesses and we are delighted they won.”

The village was able to complete the eco-park without using any tax dollars.

“The money came from a grant and from a fund that the village collects from developers that subdivide properties,” Ralph said.

The park is important for the highway department, because it will be in charge with caring for it and all local, native vegetation.

“The park doesn’t require much maintenance,” said Louis, “but it will require periodic careful attention. It will make a nice quiet area where people can think and walk and enjoy nature.”

The Crew

Louis said James “Jimmy” Neubert, deputy superintendent, works with the crew members, along with Barry Abercrombie, foreman.

“Jimmy deals with the guys,” Louis explained. “I try and keep myself one loop away from the guys. I tell Jimmy what needs to be done and he breaks up the crews to where they need to be.”

Why does Louis “keep one loop away from the guys”?

“I just feel that it’s better management practice. That way if there’s a problem and Jimmy can’t handle it, I can square things away much easier, but unless there’s a problem, I let Jimmy handle his own crew. Let’s say, for example, a guy says, ‘I got a doctor’s appointment. Can I leave a little bit early?’ Let him go to Jimmy for that. I don’t need to get involved if they have to leave a few minutes early. I have other things I can be doing.”

One of those things is dealing directly with residents. Another is attending board meetings. As superintendent, Louis has the sometimes difficult task of going to board meetings and explaining what the department is planning to do for the residents.

“The board and the mayor that we have now have treated me exceptionally well, but it’s a pretty big difference between being a deputy superintendent and a superintendent responsibility-wise,” he said.

Keeping It Current

To keep himself up-to-date, Louis attends classes at the Cornell Local Roads Program.

“They have different classes. Sometimes it’s signage, pedestrian safety, drainage roadwork. The classes usually last a day and you learn useful things.”

In October 2008, he attended NYCOM, the New York Conference of Mayors, a three-day, annual event where speakers give talks on many topics from preparing for a deposition to waste water management.

“It’s nice because you hear other guys in other parts of the state talk and you hear how they solved their problems. Sometimes you get ideas.”

And sharing ideas can make the challenging job of highway superintendent just that much easier.

Junior High School Sweetheart

Louis met his wife, Margie, when he was 12 years old. They dated for three years in junior high school, broke up, and got back together at the end of 12th grade. They have been together ever since.

“We get along well. She’s really supportive of me,” Louis said. “We’ve been married 20 years this year,” he added proudly.

He and his wife have three children — Shannon, Corey and Justin.

Krav Maga

“Krav Maga is a reality-based fighting style,” Louis said. “It’s for if you’re in a real life predicament.”

Louis has been practicing the martial art for the past six months. Krav Maga was developed and is still used by the Israeli army and now it is one of Louis’s hobbies. He mainly enjoys the exercise, though he’s glad he knows how to defend himself in case it ever comes up.

“Fortunately, I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve needed the techniques, but I think I could take somebody out pretty fast if I had to.”

Louis said he practices Krav Maga almost every day at Kombat Masters of Long Island.

“I ride 4 miles there and 4 miles back,” he said. “It’s great exercise, and the school is great. Everybody there is like one big family.”

Vroom, Vroom, Vroom

Louis’s love of machines isn’t restricted to street sweepers and Vactors. In his spare time, he likes to restore automobiles.

“I have a couple of classic cars,” he said, “a 1923 Model T and a ’66 Chevelle, and last year I restored a ’55 Chevy for my mother and stepfather.”

Louis also is a member of two car clubs — the Long Island Roadsters and the South Side Boys.

About the Village of Great Neck

There is more to Great Neck than Louis Massaro’s village. The village of Great Neck is part of a larger area also called Great Neck, which encompasses nine villages and several unincorporated areas located in the northwest corner of Nassau County. It is a peninsula that projects north into Long Island Sound.

Originally called “Madnan’s Neck”, the village was one of the first settlements in the area, with colonists coming in 1644. The colonists drove away the Mattinecock Native Americans, who had formerly occupied the land.

What is now a modern village with paved roads and beautiful homes began as a series of farms and orchards with very little commerce. Residents had to travel outside the area to attend church, mail a letter or vote.

Buildings were low and few. A single one-room schoolhouse served all of the children, and only farms could be seen along Middle Neck Road. The Wooley, Baker, Allen, Ellard, Hicks and Reagan families were prominent farm owners of the era.

In the late 1860s, when steamboats came into popular use, more merchants located in the area, and the village, once completely residential, became a small commerce center for all of Great Neck, either selling to farmers, or servicing farmer’s needs.

Many new developments followed over the next 30 years, including the establishment of a post office, voting station and telephone service.

In the 1920s, personalities such as Sid Caesar and the Marx Brothers bought homes in the area, eventually establishing it as a Jewish community.

The Jewish influence would strengthen even more after World War II, when Ashkenazi Jews left Germany, Hungary, Poland and Russia in droves and settled in America, many of them coming to Great Neck. They founded synagogues and community groups and pushed for stringent educational policies in the public schools.

In 1979 the Islamic Revolution in Iran sent another group of immigrants to Great Neck. Persian Jews left Iran and settled in Long Island in the early 1980s. Most attended Great Neck schools, but they established their own grocery stores and synagogues, where they followed Mizrahi traditions. Today, the northern portion of the Great Neck peninsula has one of the largest populations of Iranian Jews in the world.

In the late 1990s, a wave of Orthodox Jews moved to Great Neck, establishing themselves alongside the Reform Jews and Conservative Jews. At about the same time, East Asians, predominantly Chinese and Koreans, began to populate the area. Great Neck’s proximity to ethnic enclaves such as Flushing and Bayside make it ideal for East Asians.

Today, Great Neck is an ethnically diverse village with a population of approximately 9,500. It is located near the north end of Great Neck Peninsula and bounded by the village of Kings Point on the north, Great Neck Estates on the southwest, the town of North Hempstead on the southeast and west and the Manhasset Bay on the east. Its homes are predominantly upper class and the dominant religion is still Judaism, although Catholics, Episcopals and other protestant faiths all harmoniously populate the area.

Wikipedia contributed to this history.

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