The Plum Island lighthouse

Fort Terry and the Plum Island Lighthouse on Plum Island are falling into disrepair, and nautical history buffs are hoping that Southold Town will landmark the buildings, in the interest of helping bolster the case to preserve these pieces of history.

Plum Island, which is owned by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is within the boundaries of Southold Town, and if it were to be sold out of federal hands it would be subject to Southold’s zoning rules.

Southold Town Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Jamie Garretson, architect Anne Surchin and lighthouse history expert Ted Webb made their case to the Southold Town Board at its Oct. 10 work session.

“To let this fall into the sea would be a great embarrassment,” said Mr. Garretson, who added that both properties are on the National and State Registries of Historic Places.

The Plum Island Lighthouse, also known as the Plum Gut Light, is a stately granite building first constructed in 1869, which was listed on the National Register in 2011. It no longer serves as an aid to navigation. Fort Terry was built in 1897 as an outpost at the onset of the Spanish-American War, and remained in service through World War II.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he’s been in touch with the facilities department at Plum Island, which estimates it will cost $1.5 million to repair the iron in the bell tower of the lighthouse. The price is so high, he said, because any work done on the building is subject to public access standard abatement for lead and asbestos.

He said the Fort Terry buildings have been “modestly maintained,” with overgrowth regularly cut back and fresh paint from time to time.

Mr. Russell said Plum Island administrators put money to keep up the historic buildings in their budget each year, but each year it is removed before it is voted on by the U.S. Congress. He said he’s been in touch with Congressman Lee Zeldin about working to keep the money in the budget.

“It’s not for lack of trying on their part. It’s simply a federal budget issue,” said Mr. Russell.

While making the buildings a town landmark would be a minor nod to their importance, and would usually require a petition from the property owner to begin the process, Mr. Garretson said he hoped a movement to landmark the buildings would “create a groundwave, politically,” to ensure their upkeep.

“It’s wonderful history, and it’s part of our township,” agreed Mr. Webb. “We need to preserve it for future generations.”

Rental Permits?

After Southold’s fire chiefs raised questions about the dangers posed by unorthodox housing rentals, Southold Town is now considering a new rental permit law that would require a building inspector certify every two years that houses are safe for occupation before they are rented.

The town is considering instituting biennial rental permits, which would require that dwellings meet state building safety codes.

Town Councilwoman Jill Doherty is working on the project, and she said she hopes it will give building and code enforcement personnel an idea of the maximum number of people who are allowed in houses, and will ensure that proper smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are installed, and that illegal interior walls that could block egress in the case of fire are not constructed.

Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the town needs to determine how it will distribute the work load, and added that a fee for the permit may be needed to hire a new code enforcement person to do the inspections.

The town board plans to discuss the proposition with fire chiefs at an upcoming code committee meeting.

The board heard public comment from several residents of East Marion that evening asking for help enforcing the town’s existing short-term rental law.

Pickleball for All?

The slow-moving tennis cousin of pickleball has taken the East End by storm, and over at Southold Town’s ball fields on Peconic Lane, pickleball is becoming more popular than tennis.

Southold is currently keeping up with the trend by using chalk lines on its existing tennis courts to delineate the smaller playing area for this hybrid sport, which is played with a whiffle ball.

The town is now considering adding three new pickleball courts at Tasker Park on the east side of Peconic Lane.

“The place is full of pickleball players,” said Recreation Supervisor Janet Douglass at the town board’s Oct. 10 work session. “I don’t foresee pickleball going away any time soon.”

“People just line up. They love the game,” agreed Town Councilman Bob Ghosio.

Weight Limit for PBB

Peconic Bay Boulevard, like the North Fork’s two other major east-west roads, has been overloaded with weekend traffic this pumpkin picking season, and Southold Town has lagged behind Riverhead in adopting weight restrictions for the narrow country road.

Riverhead adopted an 8-ton limit in March of this year on the section of Peconic Bay Boulevard from the town line at Laurel Lane to Meetinghouse Creek Road, but Southold’s Transportation Commission, which was asked last year to extend the limit until the road’s easternmost terminus in Mattituck, adopted “a wait-and-see approach,” said Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

“I don’t think wait-and-see, in the current traffic climate, is prudent,” said Mr. Russell, who added that, if the road gets picked up by GPS providers as a bypass to the Main Road or Route 48, it could take years to undo the damage.

“It has already been discovered,” he said. The board agreed to ask the Transportation Commission to look into the matter again.

Can You Hear This?

Southold is poised to purchase a new wireless microphone system for its town board meeting room, after an overload of public complaints that people watching board meetings on Channel 22, and those in attendance at work sessions, can’t hear what board members are saying.

Currently, board members are only on microphone in regular town board meetings, when they sit at a dais with an audio system. They are not miked at a table in front of the dais where they sit for work sessions.

Councilman Jim Dinizio and Town Network & Systems Administrator Lloyd Reisenberg are considering systems ranging from $4,300 to $11,000 that could be used to provide better audio at public meetings, with the end goal of recording all meetings for upload to the town’s website or to air on Channel 22. Mr. Dinizio said the town has money from Cablevision to complete the upgrades.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

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