Reporter editorial: ‘When nobody knows, nobody cares’

JULIE LANE PHOTOS Illegally cut trees off Menhaden Lane.
JULIE LANE PHOTOS Illegally cut trees off Menhaden Lane.

Almost a month ago, resident Jean Lawless notified the community of a crime committed against all Shelter Islanders. Since then there has been no word on the progress of the investigation, only a few words from Supervisor Gary Gerth that he hoped restitution would be made.

The crime was the destruction of dozens of trees on public land off Menhaden Lane owned by Suffolk County with the town maintaining a right of way. A video taken from a drone and posted on the Reporter’s website shows the devastation someone inflicted on the public’s land: shelterislandreporter.timesreview.com/2018/02/05/aerial-view-shows-menhaden-tree-damage-2/

The Shelter Island Police Department called on the Suffolk County Parks Department to investigate and officials at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office have joined the effort.

We’ve been told that since it’s an active police matter, no information can be released.

This doesn’t seem to be a case that needs Sherlock Holmes to bring it quickly to a conclusion, and we hope no one is dragging their feet. It’s a serious, criminal matter. As Tim Purtell, chairman of the town’s Green Options Advisory Committee, said, “Those trees belong to all of us.”

Justice should be swift and appropriate to the crime committed so Mr. Gerth’s ideas about restitution can begin. And one way to stop rumors about who is responsible is to release information when it’s available.

One important insight on the matter was voiced by Dan Fokine to the Reporter. Commenting on our coverage, Mr.  Fokine, a staunch advocate to protect and preserve the special environment of Shelter Island, wrote: “This is what happens when you hide what is town-owned and county-owned public space, open to all, but with private property signs. An active agenda for years has been to obscure town-owned and/or public open space in order to avoid the desperate need for maintenance and [encourage the] elitist fear of visitors having access to lands considered by some to be their defacto private property.

“Time to face the facts that the town has purchased large amounts of land on Shelter Island that’s neglected and hidden. When nobody knows, nobody cares.”

Mr. Fokine should be heartened by the town accepting a stewardship plan for 14.5 acres of land on the northwest corner of Cobbett’s Lane and Manhanset Road, and an adjacent 7.3-acre parcel that was once green with lima bean fields and has been preserved since 2004.

The plan, put together by Gordon Gooding and others on the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board, wisely incorporated ideas from the all-volunteer Shelter Island Group for Trail Preservation, which has done spectacular work in clearing trails and making the woods and fields owned by all Shelter Islanders open to all.