Environment message being heard … sort of

Last spring, the Reporter asked Islanders what grade they would give the town on environmental issues. A C minus, they said — not a glowing report card.

But last week’s meeting, in which DEC officials acknowledged the town’s restrictions on pesticides near wetlands (see page 1 story), should earn our officials an A for effort at the least.

Old arguments from lawn care professionals and arborists that they are restricted only by the state, which licenses them, not by the town, should now be moot. If the contractors didn’t get the message Tuesday, here it is: No spraying within 100 feet of the wetlands, even if the DEC rules and the EPA label say 25 feet.

Just how far will the state’s recognition of town authority to protect the Island environment go remains to be seen. Conflicts have arisen over the years regarding docks as well as pesticides. Will the state uphold Shelter Island rules in issuing DEC permits for projects that in the past could not comply with town code?

The extent of the town’s jurisdiction and the divvying up of enforcement duties will be worked out, no doubt, as the town flexes its new environmental muscles.

The DEC offered additional help on the environmental front by providing data on the gallons of pesticides sprayed on the Island by licensed contractors. Suffolk County is helping, too, by sharing data from private wells they sample. Frankly, it’s about time. The idea that officials in Yaphank and Stony Brook could exercise meaningful oversight of the Island environment without informed collaboration with town officials living here is absurd.

While the DEC shift on pesticides is welcome, we can’t give all the credit to the town. The state is strapped for money and resources. Fred Thiele’s bill to give wetlands authority to towns, proposed before Friday’s meeting, will clarify the extent of the town’s new environmental authority if it becomes law.

To earn an A over the long haul, the town will need to get its message through, not just to state agencies but to homeowners, beginning with the O’Sheas of Proposed Road. At Tuesday’s work session, board members listed conditions to limit water use at what is essentially a 16,000-square-foot, hotel-like house on less than an acre of buildable land. Builder Ed Ernst still wasn’t getting the full message. He essentially argued that the facilities in a “cutesy locker room” bathroom designed with four of everything — showers, toilets and sinks — are not intended for simultaneous use. 

No one was buying that, or his argument that watering the property’s landscape plants would be good for the environment. Hopefully the town will send an authoritative message when it votes on this special permit on February 19.