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Deer & Tick members battle over planned survey

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Councilman Jim Colligan.

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Councilman Jim Colligan.

There are strong disagreements among members of one of the most essential town committees to the point that an elected official says there’s a risk of “losing the committee,” as in the body closing down.

Arguments over a planned survey of town residents conducted by the Deer & Tick Committee is the flash point for the dissension.

“We’ve come to a crossroads here,” said Councilman Jim Colligan, who worries about the future of the committee.

The survey on tick-borne diseases and controlling the tick and deer populations, unanimously agreed to at a June meeting of the committee and set to be distributed to the public this month, is on hold as separate factions sort out the situation.

Some members are optimistic the survey will be restructured and sent out this summer, while others are concerned it will be stopped because it contains leading questions on attitudes about 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin.

Councilman Jim Colligan, who told the Reporter his concerns about the future of the committee, said the survey was put on hold because of politics surrounding 4- posters.

A former member of the Deer & Tick Committee and now Town Board liaison to the group, Mr. Colligan speculated that Supervisor Jim Dougherty has stopped the distribution of the survey.

The councilman said Mr. Dougherty’s objections revolve around questions in the survey about the units, which the supervisor enthusiastically supports as a method of controlling the tick population. Mr. Colligan added that when the supervisor believes anyone questions the efficacy of the 4-posters, he tries to stop the discussion.

“He’s a master at procrastination when he wants to be,” Mr. Colligan said.

“I think you run the risk of losing the committee” if the survey is stopped, Mr. Colligan added. Members are serious about having an impact on the tick problem, he said, and showed it by crafting an honest survey and voting to spend up to $5,000 on postage and other related costs to get it out to residents.

Mr. Dougherty told the Reporter the proposed survey he heard discussed by the committee in early June and supported then “has very little credibility and is biased against the 4-poster units and in favor of bringing in sharpshooters” to cull the deer herd on the Island.

“I’m very disappointed,” said committee member Craig Wood on hearing the survey will be delayed. Mr. Wood took the lead in drafting the survey last month. He said he’s pleased with the balanced approach to the questions, noting he met with a few committee members to clarify some questions before making a final draft.

Mr. Wood said Mr. Dougherty, as a politician, should want to hear public opinion before taking positions on issues.

Committee Chairman Mike Scheibel said there will be survey to gauge public opinion, but it may take a few weeks more. “The devil is in the details,” Mr. Scheibel said.

Committee members aren’t survey experts and some questions may be worded in such a way that they point respondents to answer in a particular way, he said.

“We don’t need to rush into something,” Mr. Scheibel added, noting he understands there’s an effort to get a survey to people during the summer when part-time residents are on the Island.

Animal Control Officer Beau Payne said he understood the effort to get the survey out this month. “It will go out when all the parties involved in the construction [of the survey] are satisfied that a quality product will be offered to the citizens of Shelter Island,” Mr. Payne said.

The committee was tasked with determining what people think, committee member Marc Wein said. Not proceeding with the survey is a disservice to the community since it could assist the Town Board in creating a budget to address deer and tick issues next year, he added.

Mr. Wein had been a strong proponent of 4-posters, helping raise money among town residents for the units. But he became convinced that more money should be directed toward culling the herd.

Shelter Island twice received state grants of $100,000 to support deployment and maintenance of 4-poster units, but when the grant amount dropped to $25,000 this year, Mr. Dougherty said State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) told him it was because legislators heard there wasn’t the same level of support on the Island for the 4-poster units.

Mr. Wein never called for hiring sharpshooters on the Island, but wanted more money to use as an incentive to get local hunters more involved in culling the herd.

He was instrumental in the committee’s allocation of $25,000 last year for the culling effort. But only about $4,000 was spent as incentives to hunters, while the rest was redirected by the town for other purposes.

The current committee budget of $127,000 has 77 percent of money being spent deploying and maintaining 4-poster units, while 16 percent is spent on deer management and 7 percent on educational efforts, according to Animal Control Officer Payne.

“The survey won’t provide anything definitive,” said member Hank Amann. The most important thing the committee can do is to educate people on ways to avoid tick bites and steps to take if they are bitten, he said.

He is a strong supporter of the 4-posters, which he said have been effective on Ram Island.

“You can shoot all the deer you want, but you’re not going to get rid of ticks,” he said. “The problem here is mice,” Mr. Amann said.

Committee member Scott Campbell, who is chairman of the Suffolk County Tick Control Advisory Committee and lab director of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, has maintained that many more ticks feed on deer and concentrating on the large animals is more effective than any effort to try to control ticks on mice.

Member Chuck Tiernan said he had assumed the survey was going forward and had heard nothing about it being stopped. He declined further comment as did member James Bevilacqua who said, “I respect the wisdom of the committee.”

The next meeting of the committee is at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 5 at Town Hall and is open to the public.

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