This past year was a year of wake-up calls for the changing environment of the East End, and we’re going to be closely following what our local governments do in response to those wake-up calls this year — from the fish die-off in the Peconic Bay, to ever-increasing gridlock traffic on our roads to rampant partying in Montauk and the ongoing debate over how to protect our shores from climate change.
On a macro level, we’re expecting this year to be dominated by the presidential election, and by other national races.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna-Throne Holst left her post at the end of December to pursue a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives this year, but she’s not alone in seeking the Democratic nomination — Suffolk County Planning Commission Chairman David Calone, a venture capitalist from Setauket, is also building a major campaign operation.
Incumbent Congressman Lee Zeldin, a Republican, has been a regular presence on the East End in his first year in office, weighing in on issues ranging from helicopters en route to and from the East Hampton airport to the revitalization of Riverside and Flanders to the preservation of Plum Island, and we expect to see him here quite often throughout campaign season.
We’re also looking at likely votes on East End ballots this November on whether to extend the Community Preservation Fund to 2050 and allow 20 percent of that money to be used for water quality projects.
This past year was a tough one for the Peconic Estuary and the Peconic River, which saw massive fish kills and turtle die-offs early this summer, but it was also a tough year in terms of harmful algae blooms, especially in bodies of fresh water here.
We’re looking to the Gobler Labs partnership with Southampton Town to determine priority areas for septic system upgrades to private properties throughout Southampton Town, and incoming Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman has suggested he’d like to look into incentive programs for upgraded septic systems.
We’re also carefully watching the latest proposal from Deepwater Wind for an offshore wind park 30 miles off the coast of Montauk, which could help East Hampton reach its renewable energy goals, but has drawn concern from fishermen who travel through the area of the proposed wind field on their way to fishing grounds.
The Future of the North Fork Environmental Council
The North Fork Environmental Council has been one of the loudest voices for the North Fork’s environment for more than 40 years, helping guide government policy that has kept much of the North Fork in the rural state it is in today.
Current President Bill Toedter has been serving the volunteer organization for five years with a degree of dedication seldom seen in a volunteer. From organizing campaign forums to testifying before the state commission on the future of Plum Island to his constant presence at town board meetings and on the editorial pages of local newspapers, he’s been a clear and thoughtful voice for the future of the North Fork.
He’s stepping down this year, and the NFEC needs new board members to carry on this work. We’ll be watching this one carefully.
Montauk, Montauk, Montauk
The issues facing Montauk may seem less pressing in the dead of winter, but the partying that went on there last year is bound to return this summer. While East Hampton’s initial response — increasing policing and code enforcement — did dampen the situation a bit, the town’s long term efforts may have diminishing returns.
We’ll also be watching the town’s implementation this spring of a controversial rental registry, designed to address overcrowding and unsafe rental houses throughout town.
And what of the giant mess of sandbags being installed along Montauk’s oceanfront? Well, Mother Nature will doubtless be weighing in on that. In the meantime, East Hampton environmental groups are urging the community to get involved with the town’s Coastal Assessment and Resiliency Plan, underway this year.
Riverside in Hope Mode
The community of Riverside, just south of Riverhead, just received its first zoning update in decades, and we’ve heard for months that this will bring new investment to the neighborhood. But the plan won’t succeed without funding for innovative sewering solutions, and much depends on Suffolk County in this equation.
The community will be looking to new South Fork County Legislator Bridget Fleming for guidance on this issue, and we’ll be following it closely.
We’ll also be following the community’s relationship with Waterfire, an arts organization that has helped revitalize business and community spirit in riverside towns around the world.
We’ve got a lot of hope in store for good public policy in 2016! Here’s to a forward-thinking year.