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This week in Shelter Island history

REPORTER FILE PHOTO A view of the St. Gabe’s land that was preserved by the town, Suffolk County and the Shelter Island Fire Department, in conjunction with some Burns Road neighbors for ongoing use by the department for its annual chicken barbecue.
A view of the St. Gabe’s that was preserved by the town, Suffolk County and the Shelter Island Fire Department, in conjunction with some Burns Road neighbors for ongoing use by the department for its annual chicken barbecue.

The ‘Observer’ observed
It was 50 years ago that the Reporter editorial column was devoted to taking to task an anonymous writer who dubbed himself the “Observer.” While the community apparently assumed these frequent columns were written by someone on the paper’s staff, editor and publisher Walter Schumann wrote at the time that was not the case and bluntly said the writer was “nuts.” In any case, the Observer apparently stirred up a hornets nest by suggesting Shelter Island should bring in industry to this peaceful and beautiful area.
“Shelter Island’s very industry … lies in its remote location, the sleepy atmosphere, its natural beauty,” the editorial said. As long as Islanders are willing to support the community as a vacation spot, they would turn away from any attempt to attract industry.
POSTSCRIPT: The attitude of most Islanders today is very much in the same. They support small home-grown businesses, but turn their backs on the types of industries other areas work to attract. That’s a good part of why the Island’s beauty is sustained. At the same time, today’s Reporter requires writers to sign letters to the editor with the belief that ideas are welcome, but readers have a right to know whose ideas they are.

School Board schedules budget hearing
The headline might well appear today, but the circumstances of a meeting announced at the end of March 1984 were very different. Voters twice rejected the Shelter Island School District budget the previous year amidst complaints its contents weren’t made public until just before the annual May voting. The Board of Education responded by scheduling a special meeting in mid-April to give the public ample time to review and comment on the budget being proposed for the 1984-85 school year. Bob DeStefano was school board president at the time and requested questions in advance of that meeting so the administration and board could be prepared with answers.
POSTSCRIPT: It’s weeks before the Board of Education will finalize its budget proposal for the 2014-15 school year. But there have been ample budget workshops with Superintendent Michael Hynes and other staff members outlining plans for what is expected to be a more than $10 million budget request put to voters on May 20. The public has been invited to all  the workshops to weigh in with thoughts and questions about the budget and still has time to do so before April 23, when the board is expected to cast final votes on the proposal that will be up for a vote in May. There’s also plenty of time for anyone interested in seeking a seat on the Board of Education to file a petition at the school office by the close of business on Monday, April 21. There are three incumbents, none of whom have yet indicated whether or not they will seek re-election.

Center vamps seek retirement plan
Fire commissioners for what was then the separate Center Fire District agreed in late March 1994 to seek voter approval to create a Length of Service Award Program that would provide retirement benefits for volunteer firefighters. It was in 1988 that then Governor Mario Cuomo signed a bill enabling local volunteer fire districts to institute such a program. At the time there was concern that implementation of the program in the Center would hurt the Heights Fire District as volunteers might choose to transfer membership to the Center to take advantage of such a plan. It was thought that a similar plan for the Heights wouldn’t gain voter approval. Voters in the Center ended up turning down the pension plan in August by a vote 182 to 151, But eventually, the two fire districts combined and a LOSAP program was implemented.
POSTSCRIPT: In August 2012, 92 percent of voters approved a similar pension plan for the town’s ambulance service volunteers.

St. Gabe’s deal finalized after two years
Ten years ago, with Peconic Land Trust brokering a deal,  Shelter Island and Suffolk County split $923,000 of the $950,000 purchased price with the Shelter Island Fire Department and some Burns Road neighbors picking up the $27,000 balance to buy eight acres of land from St. Gabriel’s. The site has long been home to the Fire Department’s annual chicken barbecue. Two years earlier, the Passionist Fathers, faced with a financial crunch, were seeking a subdivision on their property along Coecles Harbor when Peconic Land Trust stepped in on the town’s behalf to suggest the possible deal. The result was the preservation of that acreage on which it was speculated seven or eight private houses might otherwise have been built.
POSTSCRIPT: Within the past year, there has been an effort by Supervisor Jim Dougherty to win approval for the town to acquire more St. Gabe’s land with preservation funds. But the Community Preservation Fund committee has balked, saying buildings and a bulkhead on the property would then have to be eliminated or preserved by the town. Some fear as many as 21 private houses could be built on the property if it’s acquired privately.

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