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Heavy weather: Board considers local effects of climate change

REPORTER FILE PHOTO| Bridge Street in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO| Bridge Street in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

The timing was perfect.

With Texas and Louisiana recovering from Hurricane Harvey, Florida still in shock from the devastation of Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria rampaging through the Caribbean, a tropical storm brushing past the East End this week and fears of a monster storm coming next week, Tuesday’s Town Board work session led off with a presentation about climate change and its effects on communities.

Attorney Laury Dowd was asked before the meeting who put the issue on the agenda. Ms. Dowd said, “Who’s the Cassandra who always talks about climate change? Me.”
Ms. Dowd has been a mostly solitary voice on the board on the subject.

Tuesday she noted that 30 years ago, when Shelter Island’s Comprehensive Plan was being drafted, “climate change wasn’t a blip on the horizon,” but now strategic planning is essential to combat the effects of radical changes in our environment.

Her presentation included information on the rise of sea level, which is up nearly a foot since 1900. According to The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), seas are projected to rise as much as 6.25 feet by the end of the century.

The issue, Ms. Dowd said, is how to protect our shorelines, accommodate ourselves to water rising and “realigning infrastructure,” which means building inland rather than on the shore.

The concept of “living shorelines,” was aired, or making shorelines of marshes and wetlands, rather than bulkheads, docks and houses.

Information provided during the presentation from the DEC and The Peconic Estuary Program (PEP) — an organization that’s part of a network of 28 nationally protected estuaries — showed that rising seas means water tables go up and salt water intrudes into the aquifer. Cesspools and septic systems are also flooded when the sea level rises.

Ms. Dowd mentioned there are many tools available to municipalities to become resilient to future weather crises, including the DEC’s Sea Level Task Force and the PEP’s Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan.

It’s a matter of public officials educating themselves on the problem, and choosing solutions, Ms. Dowd said.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty praised Ms. Dowd for her efforts, and said that even though she’s slated to retire at the end of the year, the attorney is still working diligently for the betterment of her community.

Herb Stelljes, a member of the Green Options Advisory Committee, also praised Ms. Dowd. Mr. Stelljes characterized the issue as “urgent” and it “was long overdue” to address “the global causes of climate change.” Shelter Island, he said, can join the battle to reduce a dependence on carbon-based fuels, which is a leading cause of global warming that triggers severe weather events.

He mentioned that neighboring communities were proactively seeking solutions, including Southampton’s “Solarize Southampton” program and Shelter Island has to do more.

“We’ve contributed to the problem so we have to contribute to the solution,” Mr. Stelljes said.

There’s a meeting scheduled of the Green Options Advisory Committee at Town Hall on September 28 at noon; Mr. Dougherty invited residents to attend, where the discussion will be continued.

In other business: The effort by the Town Board to create a database of septic systems on the Island is coming together. Draft legislation on the issue was the subject of a public hearing on September 15.

Forms were discussed that each homeowner and contractor will file with the town to put into the data base, Building Permit Examiner Lori Beard Raymond said, adding the legislation is not requiring homeowners to be the subject of a review or an inspection, but simply to gather information.

At the board’s regular meeting on September 15, Ms. Beard Raymond said many residents have no idea where their septic systems are located, what type they have or, when work is done, don’t always know whether a new system was installed, an existing system repaired or simply pumped out.

The wording of the notification to the town by homeowners concerns repairs and changes to existing systems or construction of new ones that need a building permit.
Mr. Dougherty said Tuesday the paperwork would be just a matter of “10 minutes” for residents.

The town’s insurer, New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal, formally informed the town it had received the lawsuit against the town and the Town Board by a group of residents protesting the short-term rental legislation passed in April. The insurer wrote that it had assigned the defense to attorney David Arntsen of Smithtown’s Devitt, Spellman, Barrett.