This week in Shelter Island history

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Raging waves and severe winds wreaked havoc throughout the Island in the early spring of 1984, as this picture at South Ferry shows the wrath of Mother Nature that stopped both ferry services for awhile.

Raging waves and severe winds wreaked havoc throughout the Island in the early spring of 1984, as this picture at South Ferry shows the wrath of Mother Nature that stopped both ferry services for awhile.

A growing pain
It was 50 years ago that the Town Board was engaged in battle with residents of Big Ram and Little Ram islands over proposed changes to the causeway connecting the two areas.

Residents argued they wanted their privacy and no invasion from outsiders such a connection could be expected to bring. The Town Board arguments were based on safety issues and the expectation that sooner or later, the work would have to be done and the longer it was delayed, the more expensive it would be. What’s more, Suffolk County was willing at the time to bear some of the cost. The Town eventually won its battle, largely with the argument that emergency services personnel couldn’t be expected to  respond in a timely way on roads that were sorely in need of repair and, in some areas, impassable except at low tide.

POSTSCRIPT: Those of us fortunate enough to call the East End home might be forgiven for occasionally wishing we could slam the door behind us and be left alone. But reality intrudes and despite the yen for privacy, there has been a need to let the rest of the world in for the sake of commerce and safety. We can only hope that those who do pass through have the same respect and love for nature and tranquility as those who live here.

Island is clobbered by raging spring storm
In 1984 March, as it frequently does, went out like a lion, but it was said the early spring storm that hit with 90-mile-per-hour winds and tides five feet above normal marked one of the most grueling weather systems in at least 20 years. Damage back then was estimated at $2 to $3 million on Shelter Island as waterfront property owners saw homes devastated by the storm. Both North and South ferries were down for part of the day and torrents of water flooded streets, parking lots, businesses and houses. The Rams became a true island after Gardiners Bay poured into Coecles Harbor, isolating residents in Big and Little Ram.

POSTSCRIPT: After a winter that seems like one long storm this year, it offers some relief to realize that — at least to date — we have dodged a storm like the one that hit in 1984. But memories of Irene and Sandy, not so long ago, continue to remind us of our vulnerability.

Major fire erupts on Sag Harbor’s Main Street
An Easter morning fire in April 1994 consumed Emporium Hardware and brought major smoke and water damage to surrounding businesses on Main Street in Sag Harbor, drawing  mutual aid from surrounding departments on the South Fork and Shelter Island. More than 300 firefighters engaged in fighting the blaze. But it wasn’t just firefighters who came to the aid of Sag Harbor that day. Members of the Shelter Island ladies auxiliary from both the Heights and Center Fire Departments put aside their Easter finery and began enlisting local merchants to open their stores to provide needed supplies for those fighting the massive blaze. George Walsh left his Easter dinner to open his grocery store so Sag Harbor auxiliary members could come in and gather needed supplies. Doug Warner of Fedi’s also came to the rescue. Both men donated supplies that were taken to Sag Harbor. The fire continued to burn into the night with some firefighters having to stay on scene through to the following morning.

POSTSCRIPT: The issue of mutual aid among fire departments remains critical today and brings up a debate on Shelter Island about whether a second cell tower is needed at Cobbetts Lane to accommodate an anticipated conversion to high band service by Southold and Suffolk County. Both provide dispatching services  for Shelter Island and calls for mutual aid, whether it’s to bring reserves here to fight a blaze or for our firefighters to render aid to a nearby community.

Two seats open on school board
In April 2004, there were two seats open on the Shelter Island Board of Education and only one incumbent opted to seek re-election, Linda Springer, who ended up being the top vote-getter. But four other candidates sought the seat that had been held by Marie Mazzeo. Mary Rondo won the second seat. This was the first year that those seeking ran at large instead of seeking specific seats.

POSTSCRIPT: The at-large voting continues today and this year there are three board members whose terms are expiring — Linda Eklund, Elizabeth Melichar-Lechmanski and Alfred Brigham. Incumbents and newcomers have until the close of business on Monday, April 21, to file petitions with at least 25 valid signatures if they want their names to appear on the May 20 ballot.

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