Candidates for Southold Town Trustee stole the show from Southold Town Board candidates at Southold’s most formal debate of the season, held Tuesday night at Peconic Landing.
Maybe it was the personalities involved. Maybe it was the talk about clean water. Maybe it was the talk abut the right to walk on the beach. But the six candidates for three seats on the board that looks after Southold’s shoreline had the audience on the edges of their seats for the first hour of the debate.
Democrats, who hold no seats on the board, have made a campaign issue of the right to walk on the beach. Last week, they took an ad in The Suffolk Times saying that “some people” want to take away the right to walk on the beach, and asking if the current government has done enough to protect peoples’ rights.
The two incumbents on the board seemed surprised by the Democrats’ focus on the issue. The one person who has made the most fuss about people walking on her beach — Christine Rivera, who lives on the Long Island Sound in Mattituck — actually lives outside trustee jurisdiction because the trustees’ oversight is limited to wetlands, creeks, and, since the early 1990s, the waterfront of the Peconic Bay, but not the Sound.
Incumbent trustee John Bredemeyer, who recently retired from the Suffolk County Health Department, said there is some misunderstanding in the community about the trustees’ jurisdiction. He added that the issue of who can walk where on the beach is a law enforcement issue, not an issue for a board whose primary role is to issue permits for construction near water and to protect the health of the creeks.
“The bottom line is we have very competent constables,” he said.
Incumbent Trustee Mike Domino, a retired science teacher, said that during the trustees’ 800-plus post-Sandy inspections “no one talked to us about access to the beach.”
He said he thought bay constables had responded to about two calls over arguments over who has the right to the beach.
“All the trustees understand the Public Trust Doctrine,” he said, referring to laws that give the public the right to traverse on land seaward of the mean high water mark.
Their running mate, Charles Sanders, a real estate agent with Town & Country and a battle captain in the New York National Guard who recently returned from a second tour in Afghanistan, answered nearly every question in the debate by saying he doesn’t want homeowners to have to pay for unnecessary surveys and that he’s pro-property rights, leading to some grumbling from audience members who shouted that they wanted him to answer the question he was asked. Mr. Sanders asked how many people in the room, many of them older residents of Peconic Landing, were on fixed incomes. Only a couple of people half-raised their hands.
“Whenever we talk about surveys for the high water mark and septic systems, who’s going to pay for that,” he asked. “Do you want to pay for that?”
Several audience members shouted the word “yes” in response, after which Mr. Sanders changed his tack to say he believed the water in Southold is clean.
“I’m not scared of the water on the North Fork,” he said.
Democratic candidates were frank about the ad.
“The ad was produced because we’re in the process of trying to be elected to something, and it came up time and again,” said Joseph Finora, who owns his own Laurel-based public relations firm.
Geoffrey Wells, a retired corporate IT manager who worked for Disney, ABC and Fox, said he thought the trustees should get the community and modern technology involved in deciding where the mean high water line is, to determine where people can walk on the beaches. The line is defined as a 19-year average of the high water at a specific location, but is nearly impossible to measure with any certainty. People who walk the beaches usually use the “wrack line,” a line of seaweed and debris deposited by the last high tide, as a measure of where the mean high water mark is.
The Democrats’ final candidate, Bill Funke, a former marine insurance agent, answered most of the questions in the debate by saying he either didn’t know the answer or he agreed with other candidates.
“I think the question’s been reasonably well answered,” he said, adding that some slobs and property owners in Southold “just don’t get it.”
On the issue of water quality, most candidates shared similar sentiments. Both Mr. Domino and Mr. Bredemeyer said they were “keenly aware” of water quality issues in the bay. Mr. Wells gave an impassioned plea to keep aging cesspools from polluting the bay.
“Everything we touch touches water,” he said. Mr. Finora said he couldn’t see his toes in the Peconic Bay, as he could when he was a boy. Mr. Funke said he knows the water is in pretty bad shape, but he said Southold couldn’t clean up the bay by itself. Mr. Sanders said as a real estate broker he lets homeowners know that their fertilizers can end up in the bay.
Deer, vineyards and budgets topped the discussion among town board candidates, with the opening question devoted to whether the candidates would support the $75,000 Town Supervisor Scott Russell has allocated in his 2014 budget for “deer eradication.” The budget will be adopted before the candidates who are elected take office.
Current trustee and Republican candidate Bob Ghosio, who worked for years as the manager for Burt’s Reliable in Southold, said he has Lyme Disease and something needs to be done about the diseases and accidents caused by deer. He added that he wants to lobby the state assembly to decrease the distance hunters are required to stay away from houses from 500 feet to 150 feet. The bill has passed the state senate, but Lindenhurst Assemblyman Bob Sweeney won’t let it out of committee in the assembly, while the North Fork is without a state assemblyman because Dan Losquadro left his state job to become Brookhaven Town’s highway superintendent.
Democratic candidate Mary Eisenstein, an attorney and mediator, said she too has had Lyme Disease several times. She said the first thing she would do, if elected, is bring a busload of people to Albany to lobby for the change.
Current board member and Conservative (and Republican) candidate Jim Dinizio, who runs a communications company in Greenport, said farmers, who are allowed shoot deer whenever they threaten their crops, have been taken out of the deer management equation as they’ve put up deer fences around their fields.
Democratic candidate Ron Rothman, who owns Rothman’s Department Store in Southold, said he would camp out on Bob Sweeney’s lawn until he lets the bill out of committee.
Candidates were a bit befuddled by the second question, which asked if the town’s newly adopted laws had balanced agribusiness with the town’s rural character, but didn’t specifically mention which laws were being discussed. Ms. Eisenstein said she was in favor of any effort to keep farms farming. Mr. Rothman said the town is stifling agriculture by enacting a law to limit special events in response, in part, to Cutchogue’s Vineyard 48’s flagrant flouting of town code. He said the vineyard problem “could have been solved better with enforcement of existing codes.”
Mr. Dinizio said Vineyard 48 “breaks the law every week.”
“In 1988, it was cheese and crackers and sipping wine, but it’s turned into a lot more than that,” he said of the wine industry, adding that most vineyards are in residential areas.
“One of the wonderful things about Southold is agriculture,” said Mr. Ghosio. “We have to create laws from time to time to reign in people who are trying to take advantage of us.”
Everyone said they were glad the town zoned Plum Island to prevent it from future development, and everyone said they thought the town was going a good job of keeping government costs under control.
On the campaign trail, said Ms. Eisenstein, “people generally said they really like how Scott Russell has managed the town. I concur with that.”
The audience concurred as well, with a round of applause.
Election Day is Nov. 5. This debate was brought to you by the good folks at The Suffolk Times, a division of Times/Review News Group.