Pictured Above: Strong’s Yacht Center, with the hill where the new boat storage buildings behind the existing buildings on the right, with the Old Mill Inn, which is slated to be restored, in the foreground.

The North Fork remains divided this month over Strong’s Yacht Center’s proposal to build two large yacht storage buildings into a hillside adjacent to the Mattituck Inlet.

After an hour-and-a-half of testimony at the Southold Town Planning Board June 5 from environmental consultants hired by Strong’s to complete a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project, members of the public shared more than two hours of testimony about their concerns about the effect of the project on the environment, and about the local maritime economy’s shifting needs.

The public hearing is now closed for in-person comments, but written comments may continue to be submitted through July 10.

The Southold Town Board voted last week to send out a Request for Proposals for an outside consultant to prepare the Final Environmental Impact Statement, after which the Planning Board will issue a Record of Decision and vote on whether to approve the project.

Strong’s consultants discussed their findings in the DEIS regarding the impacts of the project, which would include removing 123,000 cubic yards of sand from a hill behind their existing boat storage buildings, on air and water quality, and on the habitats of species that live in the woods.

While the consultants were quick to downplay the environmental impacts, stating that better drainage on the site will mean less runoff, that much of the 33-acre property won’t be touched by the project, and that they plan to donate trees to the community, residents said they’re concerned not only about the removal of the hill and the truck traffic expected to arrive and depart from the site during the six-month construction window, but also about the number of cement trucks that will be required to bring in enough cement to build a retaining wall on site.

Proponents of the project said they believed the Strong family has built a responsible business that employs many people, and provides services to small boat owners and the dwindling number of commercial fishermen on the North Fork.

In their Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the consultants examined six different modified alternatives to the project, as well as two additional mitigation measures — using the sand from the hill to produce concrete on site, and an alternative routing plan for the trucks removing the sand.

P.W. Grosser Vice President Kim Gennaro said the retaining wall would only require about 13,500 cubic yards of sand — about one tenth of the sand expected to be removed from the site, and would reduce the excavation phase by just 11 days. The alternate truck route would route outgoing full trucks down Bergen Avenue and incoming empty trucks down Cox Neck Road, but the remainder of the route, down Sound Avenue and Northville Turnpike and then down Route 58 in Riverhead to the Long Island Expressway, would remain the same for both incoming and outgoing trucks.

The company was not interested in pursuing other alternatives, which included constructing the buildings on top of the hill — travel lifts used for large boats must be used on level ground; constructing smaller buildings that did not require excavation, which Ms. Gennaro said “was not feasible for the applicant;” and reconstructing the existing buildings to store larger boats, which she said “would have a significant impact on the local boating community with smaller vessels.”

Jeff Strong told the crowd that his company’s decision to build these storage buildings has a lot to do with macroeconomic factors. Many owners of large boats often bring them to Florida for the winter, he said, but it has become difficult for them to get insurance in Florida due to the state’s susceptibility to hurricanes. He added that the technology needed to service new boats has changed dramatically since the existing storage buildings at the Yacht Center were built in the 1970s, necessitating modern space.

Residents’ concerns ran the gamut. In addition to the much-publicized trucking of sand away from the hill, which is proposed to take about 6 months and 4,500 round trip truck trips, Donna Boscola, who lives about 120 feet from the proposed site, said she believes the DEIS underestimates the number of cement trucks needed to build the retaining wall.

“The DEIS does not describe the routes of the cement trucks,” she said, adding that, while it estimates 89 cement trucks will be needed, she believes it would be closer to 400 round trips.

She added that Suffolk County’s planning staff had raised concerns that the excavation would create a “bowl” in which storm waters from the creek could collect, which was not addressed in the DEIS, and the document also states that a Suffolk County Water Authority main extension from Naugles Drive to the entrance of the Yacht Center is a “project benefit,” but the water main has already been completed independent of the project.

Ms. Boscola reminded the board that Save Mattituck Inlet has gathered more than 3,700 signatures on a petition to “stop the environmental destruction of this project.”

Jennifer Hartnagel of the Group for the East End pointed out several inconsistencies with the town’s comprehensive plan in the DEIS, including protecting soils and geological features, and protecting upland habitats and trees.

“Offering to donate 50 small trees to the town is a nice gesture, but it’s in no way a true mitigation,” she said. “Once the trees are removed, it’s impossible to remediate the ecosystem.”

Joel Klein of Mattituck said he believes a misinterpretation of an Army Corps of Engineers report has led many people to believe the hill is made up of dredge spoils from the dredging of the Mattituck Inlet. 

“The boring logs in the DEIS refer to ‘potential dredge spoil four to ten feet below the surface,” he said. “What’s the material on top of it, and how did you get 80-foot trees on top of it?”

He added that the ecological report in the DEIS relies heavily on the use of percentages of the entire tax parcel that will be affected.

“It was not presented as an analysis of the impact on the ecology within the project area,” he said. “The results on a percentage basis diminish the significance” of the project.

Many local business owners and marine contractors urged the board to approve the project.

“I lived in Seaford from 1960 to 1997,” said marine carpenter Ron Johnson. “There were fishermen, hunters, dockbuilders and boatbuilders and nobody complained. Then it started to develop and people started to complain. On Woodcliff Canal in Freeport, there were disco boats and restaurants, the boatyards are gone. On Freeport Main Street, the same thing — condos. I see this as your choice — condos create traffic year round. It costs 10 percent of the cost of a boat to maintain it each year — if that’s $1 million a year, Jeff (Strong) doesn’t get all of it, but he pays taxes on what he gets.”

Joe Corso of Cutchogue said he supports the project.

“There’s so much demonization in the paper and comments out there, you’d think we’re going to be digging out half of Mattituck,” he said. “Nature regenerates itself very quickly. When men don’t exist on this planet anymore, nature is going to take over within a few years.”

“I never worked for Strong’s, nor do I need to work for them,” said John Costello of Costello Marine Contracting Corp. in Greenport. “But they’ve always had a reputation of being total professionals and quality people…. We need in Southold Town, waterfront jobs. We need those jobs. They’re being taken by condominiums or by cars and people, and that is contrary to the plans that were here originally in Southold.”

Bridget Elkin of Greenport said she “doesn’t feel this is in line with the town’s vision as outlined in its LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan).”

“We need an equitable, healthy and resilient waterfront for all,” she said. “It’s hard to imagine this will enliven the waterfront, and it’s certainly not going to protect against climate change. This is a significant environmental hardship and community disturbance to the benefit of out-of-the area yacht owners. It needs access to the water, but it doesn’t need access to the North Fork’s water. Had this project been proposed by an out-of-town developer, it would have been deemed inappropriate from the outset.”

Responding to concerns raised by neighbors that the project might not be completed due to economic factors beyond Strong’s control, Mr. Strong said his company would ideally build both storage buildings at the same time, but would begin by building one if the market softened.

“We’re absolutely proposing doing it that way (both buildings) but we’re also business people and realists,” he said. “If the world were to crash, we would assure we do the excavation and the retaining wall… It’s a matter of the severity of what goes on in the world.”

In response to concerns raised by community members about whether his “real aim is to sell excavated sand,” Mr. Strong said the value of the sand excavated would be less than 10 percent of the cost of the project.

“We own eight locations and have 135 employees,” he said. “We have a lot of better things to do than go through this project to sell sand.”

“We simply want to keep our place as a shipyard, and hand it on to the next generation as a shipyard,” said Mr. Strong. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want to hand this on to the next generation.”

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 editor@eastendbeacon.com

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