East Hampton Candidates Debate Future
Pictured Above: East Hampton Town Supervisor Candidate David Gruber and incumbent Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc
East Hampton Town’s election landscape this year is one to watch, with two incumbent Democratic council members and an incumbent Democratic supervisor facing off against a field of candidates loosely affiliated behind a new “Fusion” party slate made up of Democratic and unaffiliated civic leaders who believe in reforming the town’s Democratic party.
The candidates fielded questions on issues ranging from offshore wind and energy sustainability to coastal retreat due to climate change, affordable housing and whether to close the East Hampton airport at a League of Women Voters of the Hamptons-sponsored debate at the East Hampton Library Oct. 16.
The Supervisor’s Race
Democrat Peter Van Scoyoc, a builder who served for six years as a town councilman, is seeking a second term as town supervisor. He’s facing former East Hampton Democratic Party Chairman David Gruber, a corporate lawyer.
“I say we’re stuck. Fifteen years ago we adopted a comprehensive plan that said we needed 1,300 units of affordable housing. In the intervening years, we will have built only 150,” said Mr. Gruber in his opening remarks. “At that rate it is going to take hundreds of years to get where we need to go.”
Mr. Gruber also criticized the town for taking two years to bring public water to Wainscott after concerns about the emerging contaminant PFOA in the groundwater near the East Hampton Airport, and said the town’s emergency communications systems are in a crisis.
Mr. Gruber suggested the town could build three-story buildings on 27 acres of an 80-acre parcel in order to meet the town’s affordable housing needs.
“Denser housing is greener housing,” he added. “We can afford water treatment that is absurdly unaffordable on a one house by one house basis…. And a small building footprint on a lot can have more green space.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc said he has “worked to encourage and support social responsibility, economic viability and protecting the environment during his time in office.”
“I believe in bringing people together to work cooperatively,” he said, adding that he acknowledges the affordable housing crisis, and, while his administration has done more than most recent administrations to build affordable housing, “we don’t want zone-busting three-story apartments,” as suggested by his opponent.
“There are three story buildings in Sag Harbor,” countered Mr. Gruber. “The sky didn’t fall. The world didn’t end. And community character wasn’t destroyed.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc said he’s encouraged by a new bill that has passed the state legislature allowing the five East End towns to add a .5 percent real estate transfer tax to the existing Community Preservation Fund tax, which would be used to fund affordable housing. That bill, sponsored by State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, passed the state legislature and is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature. If signed, the proposal would be put up before the voters in November of 2020.
“We’ll be working to educate the public in the coming months so we can have a successful vote,” he said.
On the issue of what to do about the East Hampton Airport, the destination of the majority of commuter helicopters that have become the bane of much of the East End, Mr. Van Scoyoc was lukewarm on the idea of completing a lengthy and costly FAA Part 161 study to back up its airport traffic restrictions, which were shot down in court early in his term when the town attempted to enact the restrictions before going through the Part 161 study.
“The FAA 161 study, to date no airport sponsor has ever been successful,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “The legislative path, through an act of Congress, there are a lot of interests you’d have to thread. Once our grant assurances expire, we have an opportunity to actually close the airport, and I think that’s probably where we’ll end up in 2021.”
Mr. Gruber, who has at one time chaired the town’s subcommittee on airport noise, said the town must complete the Part 161 study.
“If we don’t do that now, there will be no framework to come to an agreement,” he said. “The town plans to play chicken with the FAA. They think if we threaten to close the airport, the FAA is going to show its cards, but the FAA has no means of negotiating a solution with East Hampton.”
On how the proposed South Fork Wind Farm will affect local fishermen, Mr. Gruber said the Danish firm Orsted, which now owns Deepwater Wind, the original company that got leases and power purchase agreements for the project, knows from its experience in Europe the importance of not locating wind farms in fishing grounds.
“If there is displacement [of fishermen in Europe] it is compensated as a matter of law,” said Mr. Gruber, adding that the proposed wind farm, is on Cox’s Ledge, “one of the most fertile fishing grounds in the northeast.”
Mr. Gruber added that he sees compensation that has been offered in the past by the developers as “trinkets” and added that power from the project won’t meet peak demand and will be sold everywhere on Long Island, not just in East Hampton.
“We’ve been sold a bill of goods about this project,” he said.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said some areas of Cox’s Ledge “aren’t fished by the vast majority of draggers, simply because it’s too rocky.”
“It’s important to understand the potential impacts of siting. Most are temporary,” he added. “I do think it’s important to lobby for compensation for fishermen displaced during construction… It’s important for fishermen to engage in that conversation. Finally that’s starting to happen.”
“Most of the problems we’re talking about tonight are technical problems. They have technical solutions that we’ve been unable to achieve,” said Mr. Gruber in his closing statement. “I see these problems and know they can be solved and I know how to solve them. The fact that we’re so stuck I find heartbreaking. We have the resources in this community. Where is the hope in this world? I want to have hope.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc said the town’s problems “aren’t simple problems you can solve overnight,” and added that many are ‘legacy issues’ such as water quality and climate change and the town is ‘actively working to solve them.’
He added that, in the time he has been on the town board, the town has come back from a disastrous 27 million budget deficit, and now has 40 million in reserves.
“I’m very honored to have been supervisor,” he said.
For Town Board
Incumbent Democratic East Hampton Town Board members Sylvia Overby, who has been on the board for eight years, and David Lys, who is seeking his first full term after being appointed to replace Mr. Van Scoyoc on the town board are faced this year by Elizabeth Bambrick, an unaffiliated voter who has served for many years in town government, including as a code enforcement department head, and now works at St. Michael’s senior housing in Amagansett, and by Bonnie Brady, a registered Democrat, journalist, paramedic and Montauk resident who serves as Executive Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.
All candidates shared their concerns about erosion, which faces areas like downtown Montauk, but also the back bays, creeks and harbors along the north shore of East Hampton Town.
Ms. Overby pointed out that 30 feet of road at the end of Louse Point in Springs has been washed into the inlet to Accabonac Harbor.
“We do know from studies and working with NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] that the bays will be inundated first with flooding. We’ve seen that on Gerard Drive [in Springs],” she said, adding that the town is working on a Coastal Assessment Resiliency Plan [CARP] and will be holding a meeting to discuss its findings at the Amagansett American Legion Oct. 28.
She added that the Army Corps of Engineers’ much-derided sandbag project shoring up downtown Montauk “is helping us maintain that beach and tourism industry,” and that a transfer of development rights program proposed in the Montauk Hamlet Study, which would help ocean-front business owners move back from the beach, is essential to the long-term survival of downtown Montauk.
Ms. Bambrink pointed out a much-publicized photo of a septic system exposed along the shorefront on Gerard Drive in Springs.
“How did that septic get in there to begin with?” she asked. “We need to pay closer attention to what’s happening with the building department. How do we know the Surf Lodge [a Montauk hotel and venue] septic isn’t sitting in water? It’s a sin that one of our most pristine beaches in Montauk is now called dirtbag beach.”
Ms. Brady also had harsh words for the sandbagged beach project.
“The first thing you don’t do is cut into the primary dune in Montauk,” she said, adding that the sandbags are covered by construction-grade sand that is washed away nearly every nor’easter, leaving access stairs hanging in the air.
She added that many Montauk business owners were not involved in the Montauk Hamlet Study because they were busy working.
“They shouldn’t be forced from the area. They should be equal partners in those decisions,” she said, adding that the town should consider partnering with Southampton on sharing the costs of a dredge.
Mr. Lys said a dredge would cost tens of millions of dollars to purchase. He added that he’s concerned about many other erosion hotspots throughout town, from Cranberry Hole Road in Amagansett to Lazy Point in Napeague to Soundview Drive in Montauk.
“If we didn’t put the bags down, we would have no Montauk,” he said of the sandbagged beach.
He said he’d like to “get everyone on a bus and go down to Washington” to lobby for the Army Corps of Engineers to start working on its long-awaited Fire Island to Montauk Point project.
On government leadership styles, the two challengers said they believe East Hampton’s elected officials are not listening to the will of the people.
“When I come to the town board, I hear ‘thank you for your input’ and it’s all dismissed,” said Ms. Bambrick. “That’s what happens when there’s one-party rule. Opposing voices are simply not heard.”
Ms. Brady agreed, saying she believes the town has turned a blind eye to Montauk business owners when drafting its hamlet plan, and adding that commercial fishermen felt betrayed by former Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, who she said entered talks with Deepwater Wind before consulting the fishing community.
“I said, Larry, you just slit our throats, and he said ‘how can I make it better?’” she said. “I said ‘I don’t think you can.’ We need a process where everyone is in the room.’”
On supporting immigrants, Ms. Bambrick said she was surprised when she became Director of Code Enforcement that none of the department’s informational material was available in Spanish. She said she then worked to make sure the information was translated.
Ms. Overby said she worked to bring back the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, which is holding a discussion Nov. 6 on a new state law allowing undocumented immigrants access to New York State Driver’s Licenses.
“This is going to allow immigrants to be able to get licenses and insurance, which makes all of us safer,” she said.
On the town’s deer problems, Mr. Lys said he’s in favor of a four-poster program, like on Shelter Island, which is a baiting station that rolls an insecticide on deer to kill ticks. He would also like to see educational ‘deer exclosures’ built so that people can see what a healthy understory looks like in woods where deer don’t eat everything.
Ms. Overby said she’d like to encourage recreational hunters to continue to hunt, and she hopes the town doesn’t have to resort to a USDA-sponsored cull.
Ms. Bambrick said she has an alpha gal meat allergy due to a tick bite, and has had Lyme Disease, which is carried by deer ticks, but said she is still an animal lover.
But, she said, the town is not enforcing its deer fence regulations, which leaves deer with nowhere to go but into public streets and other areas where they are equally unwanted. She said she’d like to see a census to know how many deer are in town to determine if a cull is needed.
“If we have to do a cull, we have to do a cull,” she said.
Ms. Brady said she didn’t think a four-poster project could work outside of on an island, due to the chemical exposure and the potential for rodents to be attracted to the bait.
She said she’d like to see the town have access to a deer butcher, to allow hunters to give their venison to food pantries.
“I don’t have a problem with a cull,” she said. “I don’t hunt myself, but I have had some great Bambi tacos.”