From Plum Island to Riverhead to Montauk, environmental preservation is on the minds of East End governments this week.
The Southold Town Board tabled its ongoing public hearing on zoning Plum Island at its Tuesday meeting, after withdrawing the section of the proposed law that pertains to a proposed marine zoning district on the island, after concerns were raised by the Cross Sound Ferry over how it may change the allowable scope of their operations. Environmentalists in the room also applauded the town for reconsidering the marine district zoning in light of the recently re-revealed fact that a woolly mammoth skeleton was found in the marine district in the 1800s.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the woolly mammoth was likely Councilman Bill Ruland’s childhood pet, which ran away and was never found. Mr. Ruland likes to talk about the good old days before most of us were born and Mr. Russell wishes he had chosen to become a stand up comedian rather than a politician.
The town is hoping to zone the island so that it can only be used as a research laboratory and wildlife conservation area, before the federal government puts it on the auction block, where it could be sold and divided into building lots or developed with condominiums.
Former Southold Town Board member and current Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski urged the board to pass the Plum Island zoning, even if it means revisiting the marine areas later, in two weeks.
“Do not let it go any further,” Mr. Krupski urged. “You’re attracting a lot of attention, but that will go away when it’s approved.”
Meanwhile, a bill proposed last month by Congressman Tim Bishop that would reverse the provision in a federal law that requires Plum Island be sold is slowly making its way through the gears of Congress. Mr. Bishop’s bill, introduced July 16, was referred to House Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency on July 23. A companion senate bill introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut was referred to Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on July 16 after being read twice.
Mr. Russell reminded the environmentalists in the room for the hearing that it is not just the wildlife of Plum Island that the town would like to save. He said Southold needs to keep some of the 400 jobs being done by scientists on Plum Island now.
“We’re struggling to save a research facility of world importance,” he said.
Southold also finally approved a leash law proposed more than a year ago in a 5-1 vote Tuesday, with Councilman Jim Dinizio casting the dissenting vote. Board members who voted for the leash law said it was about time to try something and see if it works.
The law, in brief, would ban dogs at bathing beaches when lifeguards are on duty, would require dogs to be leashed at public parks and playgrounds, and require dogs be leashed on beaches between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. between May 1 and October 1. It’s available to read here. Currently, dogs aren’t allowed to run at large anywhere in town, but the law isn’t enforced.
East Hampton Town
Fort Pond House, a nature center overlooking Fort Pond Bay in Montauk, will not be sold. It will instead be dedicated as the Carol Morrison Park, after Councilman Dominick Stanzione sided Tuesday with the two Democrats on the town board who have been pushing to rescind the sale since they were elected two years ago.
Mr. Stanzione said at a meeting two weeks ago that he was considering agreeing to take the house off the market, since the town’s financial situation has improved dramatically since the sale of the house was first proposed. He suggested the property be named for Carol Morrison, who served as president of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk and was a government watchdog and environmentalist who launched a campaign in support of the programs run by the Third House Nature Center at Fort Pond House not long before her death in 2010 at the age of 90.
After years of setbacks that included the removal of near-indigent hotel residents, the removal of asbestos and the removal of tire tracks on the new soft sod, the former Weeping Willow Motel site on West Main Street will reopen this Friday as a canoe and kayak launching area.
The project cost $500,000.
In a press release issued Tuesday, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said removing the problematic Weeping Willow Motel will improve safety, environmental conditions and public access to the Peconic River for passive
recreational enjoyment that will “stimulate revitalization efforts on Main Street….the project has removed a blighting influence in the downtown Riverhead business district and eliminated the significant discharge of wastewater and runoff from the site into the Peconic River.”
The town and other government agencies have been buying up riverfront land up and down West Main Street for years in the hopes of forming a greenbelt along a stretch of road that had been known for its cheap motels and even cheaper streetwalkers.
The Weeping Willow Park appears to be by far the easiest canoe and kayak put-in along the river. The second most recent access site built by the government, near the Greenview Inn, which was once the infamous Riverhead Resort Motel, requires a long portage from the parking lot, but the Weeping Willow put-in is just steps from the parking lot.
Plans to revive the derelict old Canoe Place Inn on the west side of Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays have been in the works for years, and the owners of the property, the Rechler cousins’ corporation, R Squared, now want to redevelop the hotel and build 40 townhouses on property they own on the east side of the canal.
Southampton is proposing to change the zoning there from resort waterfront business and motel to a maritime planned development district.
At a public hearing Tuesday afternoon, many neighbors said they were concerned that they weren’t given an opportunity to provide input on the plan, which would include a sewer system in their backyards.
Members of the town board said it’s important to create affordable housing there.
“I am thoroughly in support of this project… We had to address the dire lack of affordable housing in our town,” said Town Supervisor Anna Throne Holst, who said the town had just evicted some people living in tents along County Road 39. “It takes courage to support affordable housing. It takes courage to say we can’t let this go….We have to be able to overcome the “Not In My Backyard” plague that always happened….We have bent over backwards to reach out to the community and have them weigh in on this.
Southampton Hospital president Robert Chaloner sent a letter supporting the proposal, saying hospital workers have a hard time finding housing here.
“We urge the town to support this proposal,” he said.
The proposal was tabled for two weeks.
Comment was very light a public hearing on whether graveyards should no longer be considered park recreation areas, despite extensive coverage on this website. Perhaps it should have been held at a night meeting to encourage more participation from ghouls.