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Fury calms over beach driving

JULIE LANE PHOTO Peconic Land Trust Vice President Pam Green asked the Town Board to share in costs to hire a consultant to advise on how to address ongoing erosion at Reel Point.
Peconic Land Trust Vice President Pam Green asked the Town Board to share in costs to hire a consultant to advise on how to address ongoing erosion at Reel Point.

Driving on Shelter Island beaches may have been a hot topic in late October, but by Tuesday’s Town Board work session, only a few from the fishing community showed up to assure their voices had been heard.What is significant to them is that they still be able to access beaches with their vehicles bearing fishing gear without having to lug it any distance.

They packed Town Hall in late October demanding that any changes made to a proposed law affecting beach driving reflect their needs.

Current law affects only Crescent, Wades and Shell beaches where residents must pay $25 for a permit to drive and nonresidents are assessed $100.

But when drivers were observed on other beaches, police were helpless to stop them because there was no law being broken, according to Chief Jim Read.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, vehicles aren’t allowed on beaches during the daytime hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. and a couple of residents wanted to assure that wouldn’t change so children swimming in areas around Menhaden and Hay Beach would be safe.

Since last month’s discussion, Town Board members realized a clearer definition in any new resolution would have to better define what constitutes a beach.

This week, they promised to chew on proposed changes and assured the fisherman there would be a public hearing before any changes could be made to the existing law.

Just a couple of years ago, town officials were celebrating dredging around Reel Point, but couldn’t have known then that a storm or two would undo the work.

Now the Peconic Land Trust is proposing that instead of another dredge effort, a consultant be hired to assess what can be done that would be a permanent solution to the problem.

The Land Trust, as a result of a gift from Herb Stern in the 1990s, owns the isthmus that links to the narrow piece of land that juts into Coecles Harbor from the southern end of Club Drive.

PLT Vice President Pam Green asked the Town Board Wednesday to consider helping to pay what could be about $38,000 to hire a consultant.

“We have the best of intentions,” Ms. Green said. But to continue to go back to the same contributors for more money to repeat efforts that didn’t work two years ago is something she doesn’t want to do.

Rocks meant to help provide protection from erosion have, instead, accelerated that erosion, according to Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr.

Money is a small part of the issue, Councilman Peter Reich said. What concerns him is that computer modeling often looks promising, but as Mother Nature takes a toll, it’s “not an exact thing” that happens according to what the computer models predict.

A lot of the shoreline that was protecting the rocks has been lost, Mr. Card said.
What the Town Board will do is work with its new grant writer, Jennifer Mesiano, to see if there might be a way to get money for the project and, if so, then examine results to try to determine just what action makes sense.
Town Board members and department heads will meet with Mr. Mesiano on Monday, November 16, to toss around ways in which specific grant possibilities might be available for various projects, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said.

Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. told the Town Board he has learned that $125,000 in grant money from New York State is definitely coming, but Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. has told him the town must spend the money on its roads and await reimbursement.

Should the town elect to do so, the funds would have to be found in the current year’s budget and likely be reimbursed sometime in 2016.

Because the Town Board was hearing about the specifics of the grant for the first time, members agreed they would have to assess the money situation before responding.

On another, but related issue, Councilman Ed Brown told Mr. Card there remains $7,500 in the current budget for patching and sealing road cracks prior to the winter season and said more could be made available if needed.

Mr. Card offered no comment, but later told the Reporter his crews have been patching and sealing throughout the year. He said he expects to use what’s left in his budget for such work before year end.

But promises that more money could be found don’t enable him to plan work since machinery to do the patching and sealing has to be rented and he can’t rent it without having the money in his budget to cover the cost.

Even then, he said, availability of the machinery and changes in the weather can affect those plans.

Typically, road crews typically fix such spots in the order of best to worst because those that are best can be saved with a patch while some roads are so deteriorated, they need full repaving, not a patch, Mr. Card said.

Planning is difficult when he’s getting mixed messages from the Town Board, he said.

A few weeks ago during budget talks, Mr. Dougherty displayed a report he said reflected an independent assessment that town roads were in better condition on the Island than in any other Suffolk County municipality and now Mr. Brown is saying there are cracks all over that still need to be fixed before winter weather sets in.

It’s hard to plan when messages about money availability are mixed, Mr. Card said.

Mr. Brown said from both a liability perspective and preventive maintenance, he wants to assure that money is spent as needed on patching and sealing so more roads don’t fall into such disrepair that they must be addressed through more expensive repaving.

With winter fast approaching and money available in town coffers, he made the offer to provide more than the $7,500 left in the road maintenance budget for that reason.

After an October Town Board discussion of William Anderson’s wetlands permit affecting his Montclair Avenue property, the issue was back before the Town Board this week with general agreement that requested changes would be made, but that some building materials would likely have to be stored off the grounds and brought in and out as needed.

Mr. Anderson has been replacing an old house with a new one that will have a pool and the Town Board had asked for a number of changes to mitigate the work.

Mr. Reich told his colleagues that a number of members of the seven-member Water Management Advisory Committee are likely to be unavailable for meetings through several winter months. While members can phone in to discuss issues, they can’t vote, holding up actions on various applications for docks, moorings and bulkheads.

The WMAC typically considers such applications and makes its recommendations about whether they should be granted or rejected by the Town Board that makes the ultimate decision.

While there’s little that can be done about the winter situation, Mr. Reich suggested that his colleagues look at and inquire about attendance records in appointing new members or reappointing existing members to various committees.

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