For some not particularly interesting reason that has something to do with the idiosyncrasies of the Gregorian calendar, most of our esteemed East End towns have taken the week off. The lone exception is Southampton, which has set itself up as bait for folks who don’t want the government involved in renewable energy, clean water, efficient cesspools or other environmental issues.
Tuesday night, at the fourth public hearing on Southampton’s contentious new sustainability plan, titled Southampton 400+, town planners unveiled a watered down version of the document, which has become a political lightning rod and has drawn the ire of residents who believe it is part of a global United Nations conspiracy for local governments to regulate the way people live their lives.
The revised version of the plan, as of July 23, is posted on the town’s website here.
The town’s long-range planner, Janice Sherer, outlined the changes, many of which were drafted by Councilwoman Christine Scalera, who said at the hearing she was attempting to pull issues that were political lightning rods out of the document.
In that vein, the document’s new mission statement makes clear that “while sustainability has its term in global context, it’s meant to be a local application here,” said Ms. Scherer.
The document’s executive summary now states that “while the term “sustainability” may have global application in other non-town documents, the term as used herein is not in furtherance of those global objectives but is meant to directly apply to the resilience of our local community.”
Councilwoman Scalera and Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst also introduced a walk-on resolution rescinding the town’s membership in ICLEI, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, ostensibly because, said Ms. Scalera, the town had paid their dues in the organization without the town board’s approval of a resolution authorizing the payment. ICLEI is considered the world’s most prominent organization helping municipalities accelerate their sustainability goals.
“Interacting with ICLEI, ladies and gentlemen, is treason,” said Hampton Bays resident Maud Pollock in comments at the public hearing. “ICLEI is a German governmental representative in this country….Everything that you use from ICLEI comes out of Agenda 21, the United Nations…. It is not, as you say, locally oriented by your green committee.”
“We are terminating any relationship that we may have had with ICLEI. This work is, again, on a local level,” said Ms. Throne-Holst. “We’re taking as firm and as clear a stance as we can on this issue.” The termination was adopted unanimously.
Ms. Pollock added that ‘carbon’ is a fraud and the town board might want to look into global manipulation of the weather.
“The whole thing is built on a fraud,” she said.
The new sustainability plan contains a lot of softer language throughout, with suggestions qualified with the terms “consider” doing things and “assess the potential to” do things instead of doing them, particularly in the chapter addressing water conservation and water quality initiatives. All of the proposals outlined in the plan — from making the streets more walkable and bikeable to assessing the water use of sprinkler systems to supporting the Clean Water Coalition and encouraging the use of low impact landscaping — are suggestions, which would need to be voted on individually on by town boards in the future.
Ms. Scalera suggested more of the water recommendations be taken out of the plan, but Councilwoman Bridget Fleming disagreed.
“To water it down, so to speak, any of these things are suggestions for moving us forward,” said Ms. Fleming. “For many of us, I can speak for myself…this is a commitment to try to improve our environmental position.”
She added that the waters in her hometown of Sag Harbor were closed to shellfishing this spring due to poor water quality.
“This is a very, very real problem for Southampton Town,” she said. “Everything we’ve got in here is a suggestion…In my view, to change [the language] to ‘considering’ is good way to retain some of these ideas.”
The new draft also pulls several original recommendations that the town purchase renewable energy credits to offset its carbon emissions.
Ms. Pollock, of Hampton Bays, asked at the hearing that the plan be tabled until after this November’s election when “two or three board members might change.” She also said board members who are not property owners should recuse themselves, since they won’t be affected by the plan. She said sustainability is an attack on capitalism and the middle class American lifestyle. She added that the town should look to the state of Alabama for guidance on how to protect private property rights.
Louis Meisel of Meisel Development, which recently built the LEED-certified Water Mill Ateliers said “this is the most spectacular document I’ve ever seen.”
He said, however, that when he was building the Ateliers, the town’s building department required 20 drywells and an asphalt driveway that met the standards of the Long Island Expressway, when he had hoped to build a permeable driveway that absorbed water. He said if the town had allowed him to build a more green driveway, he would have met LEED platinum standards instead of gold.
He also didn’t put up solar panels because, he said, the town’s Architectural Review Board didn’t like the way they looked.
“The previous administration was for us; Obviously this administration wants to do whatever it can,” he said. “Here’s the problem: when you get down to lower levels of town government and committees and departments, we kept hearing ‘we have our rules’ and it was irrational.”
Stephen Storch, a biodynamic farmer from Water Mill, said state agencies are complicit with pesticide companies, making it difficult for the town to enforce clean water efforts.
“Half your plan is just an exercise in futility,” he said. “Until you can exert pressure upward, you can’t exert pressure downward.”
Reverend Donald Havrilla of the Southampton Full Gospel Church said many of the board members “won’t be back” after this fall’s election, and asked the supervisor what the point of the plan was and how much it would cost.
“Why are you insistent on forcing this through at this time?” he said.
Ms. Throne-Holst said a cost-benefit analysis couldn’t be performed on many aspects of the plan, and asked Mr. Havrilla to meet with her to submit his ideas for areas in which the analysis should be made.
She asked the public to consider the costs of not implementing some of the recommendations.
“That is something we can quantify,” she said, pointing out the damage to non-FEMA compliant buildings during Superstorm Sandy.
The public hearing remains open for more comment at the board’s Sept. 10 daytime meeting, and no vote was taken.
Last night, the board also scheduled a public hearing on expanding its solar rebate program for Aug. 13 at 1 p.m. The proposed code amendment would change the rebate from its current fixed dollar amount of $2,500 to $500 for each kilowatt of a solar electric system installed, up to $3,500. The code change would also authorize a rebate of $500 to homeowners who install solar hot water systems.
Shelter Island Town
It’s official on Shelter Island: The skies will now be dark, after the island’s town board voted 3-2 last Friday to join the rest of the East End in codifying their desire for dark skies.A public hearing on an eight-month moratorium on the island’s ban on irrigation will be held at the board’s Aug. 9 meeting at 4:30 p.m. The board already approved the moratorium at its meeting last Friday.
Southold, Riverhead and East Hampton towns
The Southold and East Hampton town boards have this week off, and Riverhead Town has cancelled its July 25 work session. Stay tuned next week for info on what East Hampton and Southold are planning to do on July 30 and what Riverhead is planning to do at its next work session Aug. 1.