We, on the East End of Long Island, are so fortunate to live here. Many who don’t are envious of our good fortune.
We have some of the most cherished beaches, villages, wildlife, sunrises and sunsets in the world. Our community is made up of many different people; full-time residents including farmers, fishers, business owners, artists, tradespeople, activists, community servants, retirees and the list goes on. We also are part-time home to thousands of middle and upper class folks whose primary residence is somewhere in the NY-NJ-CT area, as well as many from all over the US and the world, primarily Europe and South America.
For generations, there has existed a love-hate relationship between the “locals” and the “city-people,” although there have been many other names used to coin both types, which won’t be shared here. Locals have benefited greatly from the financial resources that part-time residents bring to the East End, spending their money on real estate, construction, food and entertainment, donating to cultural institutions, museums, hospitals and giving many of us the opportunity to make as much income in the three month summer season as is made in the entire nine month off season.
The East End is comprised of five Townships, 10 Villages, 46 Hamlets and the Shinnecock Nation, with a 2010 population of less than 137,000 people – about 10 percent of the population but about 33 percent of the land of Suffolk County.
It appears that most of our village and township leaders are local to the East End and were either born here or have lived here for many years.There is no regional government between the local East End leaders and county government that serves our interests. As a result of the population imbalance, Western Suffolk has more representation in county and state government, therefore dominating the agenda.
This is where they envy comes in. Many who don’t live here think that we all live “the high life.” After all, “The Fabulous Hamptons,” with big real estate deals and famous people going to private parties are always in the news, right? So, with all that wealth, why should the East End need support for public transportation, affordable housing and social programs?
The formation of Peconic County, consisting of the five East End Towns, has been discussed for more than 50 years. In 1997, 71 percent of the East End’s voters approved a non-binding resolution to secede. However the New York State Assembly never approved the enabling legislation.
In 1998 Peconic County Now! Filed a lawsuit to force a binding referendum vote, but was denied by the court, and several appeals have been rejected.
The East End Supervisors and Mayors Association tackles regional issues, including shared municipal services, coastal erosion, affordable housing, the opioid epidemic, tourism, clean water initiatives, tick and mosquito control and transportation issues.
New York State Assemblymen Fred Thiele, who led the Peconic County movement for more than 20 years, and County Legislators Bridget Fleming and Al Krupski typically attend these bi-monthly meetings and report to the group.
As a member of the Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force, Outreach Committee Member for The Peconic Land Trust and as a Community Based Housing Advocate, I have attended meetings in each of the five East End towns and many of the villages. I’ll tell you, the same conversation is taking place in each of these communities regarding jobs, housing, traffic, transportation, water quality and economic development.
We are out of balance in our communities. We have lots of fancy part-time homes and too few homes and apartments that our own can afford. We have plentiful summer jobs and not enough well-paying, year-round jobs. We’re home to all the major luxury car dealerships and our bus and train service is in shambles. We’re experiencing a brain drain, a culture drain and a youth drain because the young people that we spend thousand and thousands of dollars educating end up leaving the area because we don’t have jobs or places to live for them. Our elderly are being exported out of state due to the lack of affordable senior housing.
Our fiefdoms must unite! We need a regional, East End collaborative with the will, the resources and the ability to make an impact on these regional issues. Perhaps that’s something like a Peconic Development Corporation, whose focus is to protect our beautiful natural resources while tapping into the public and private resources needed to arrive at a balance for our local and year round residents.
Perhaps it’s time to make a go at Peconic County again? I’m in, are you?
Michael Daly is an East Ender and regular contributor to The Beacon on community issues he cares passionately about. He can be reached at 631.525.6000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org