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Suffolk Closeup: Battling giants — and winning — in the county

John J. Mullen, a leading wordsmith of the anti-nuclear power movement on Long Island, died last month.

Working pro bono with attorney Tom Twomey, who passed away in 2014, Mullen used his great gift of language and brilliance at advertising and direct mail to challenge the scheme of the Long Island Lighting Company to turn Suffolk County into a “Nuclear Power Park.”

Yes, “Nuclear Power Park.”

Mr. Twomey obtained — and Mr. Mullen brought to public attention — a 4-inch-thick “Nuclear Power Park Report” put together by LILCO.

Nuclear power plants would be built throughout Suffolk under LILCO’s plan to become a major distributor of nuclear-generated electricity on the U.S. East Coast, with the people of the county undergoing the enormous risks of having the counterparts of the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear power plants here.

Four nuclear power plants would be built along the Long Island Sound in Jamesport. It was during the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings on the LILCO Jamesport project that Mr. Twomey secured the “Nuclear Power Park Report.”

And, three nuclear power plants were supposed to rise 30 miles to the west of Jamesport, at Shoreham. The first, what was referred to in NRC licensing proceeding papers as Shoreham Nuclear Power Station 1, was completed and underwent problem-plagued low-power testing. It was stopped from going into commercial operation by opposition at the grassroots and by Suffolk and New York State governments.

It now sits, a cement hulk, its nuclear innards removed, with its demolition deemed too expensive by the Long Island Power Authority, to which LILCO turned it over for a nominal $1.  There would be no Shoreham Nuclear Power Stations 2 and 3, nor were there to be any of the other nuclear plants LILCO planned elsewhere in Suffolk.

A Shelter Islander, who also was a major foe of LILCO’s nuclear scheme, Miles Hoye, also passed away this year, in October. Mr. Hoye along with his late wife Betty would be regulars at meetings of the Suffolk Legislature speaking out against the Jamesport and Shoreham projects. He had been a teacher, North Ferry deck hand and captain and a carpenter. He and Betty were fervent, accurate and eloquent in their opposition to nuclear power. 

Another Shelter Islander, William Romanchuk, would also often be present, and along with Mr. and Ms. Hoye, they served as an anti-nuclear delegation from Shelter Island. Mr. Romanchuk, who died in 2008, a retired New York Police Department lieutenant who held the position of president of the Suffolk County Senior’s Council, presented an impressive picture.

As a retired police officer, he was especially credible in arguing that evacuation would be impossible in Suffolk in the event of a major Shoreham accident. A book written by Jennifer Wood about Mr. Romanchuk is titled “Fighting Faustian Fission: Bill Romanchuk and the Nuclear Nightmare.”

Mr. Mullen, of East Hampton, had been advertising director of the Long Island Traveler-Watchman in Mattituck when the big LILCO nuclear power push and resulting strong resistance — a veritable energy “Battle of Long Island” — was erupting.

Newspapering was in John’s family. His father, also John J. Mullen, was circulation director and a board member of Newsday. The elder Mr. Mullen, John would recount, was the “right-hand man” to Alicia Patterson, the founder and editor of Newsday. The Mullens lived, and John grew up, in Garden City, where Newsday was long published.

Indeed, part of Mr. Mullen’s strategy in challenging nuclear power on Long Island was to put together a broadsheet newspaper, “New York State Against Jamesport,” on which he is listed as publishing director and editor-in-chief.

John utilized a blunt, in-your-face, approach to taking on LILCO and its nuclear power scheme. For example, in an old yellowed copy I have kept of New York State Against Jamesport, there is a half-page declaration that John wrote titled: “TO THE SHAREOWNERS OF LONG ISLAND LIGHTING COMPANY, SHOULD YOU SELL NOW?”

It began by speaking of the big nuclear push by LILCO, “the possibility of 20 nuclear power plants.” And, the LILCO shareowners were advised, “LILCO’s ambitious nuclear program could represent a bad investment for the company and a financial loss for its shareowners.

There is growing resistance to nuclear power plants not only with the public but in financial institutions and shareowners.” And it went on with critical information.

John met the love of his life, Mary Ann McCaffrey, in 1979. Together, they would move to Manhattan and John would work at Oglivy & Mather where he was an executive in its direct response division.

But they returned to Suffolk in 1984 to establish Mullen & McCaffrey, specializing in direct mail, fundraising, advertising and PR for a wide range of clients here, especially environmental organizations. Through the 90s, the couple were directors of community relations and development at Eastern Long Hospital in Greenport.

“Johnny is dead at 73, which is too soon, but he is kept alive for me by all the family and friends who are sharing their Johnny stories with me,” Mary Ann wrote after Mr. Mullen’s death. “He told the truth — sometimes offending people — but was always forgiving and loving, and caring.”