At its Tuesday work session, the Town Board gave updates on several issues that have been before the public in recent weeks.
There seems to be movement on only one pressing concern — the erosion crisis at Reel Point — while the situations of limited availability of medical care on the Island and the criminal cutting of acres of trees off Menhaden Lane remain status quo.
Town Engineer John Cronin told the board that the town, along with the Peconic Land Trust (PLT), which owns Reel Point, have agreed to evenly split about $14,000 for a new set of construction drawings of the property. The drawings will then become the basis for securing permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for work shoring up Reel Point.
The spit of land jutting from the southern tip of Big Ram Island, a natural barrier that once guarded Coecles Harbor and the homes and businesses that line its shore from high seas and destructive storms, was already in “alarming “ shape,” as one town official termed it, but recent nor’easters have made the situation worse, Mr. Cronin said.
Reel Point is a natural barrier protecting Coecles Harbor from unimpeded waves moving westward from Point Judith, Rhode Island, gathering strength across 40 nautical miles before making a landfall on Shelter Island.
Businesses in the area that could be affected if Reel Point is lost include Coecles Harbor Marina, Clark’s Marina, The Ram’s Head Inn and CH Marine Yacht Builders. In addition, failure to save the point could destroy private properties on Ram Island and that ring the harbor, plus the high-end residential development being constructed on the former St. Gabriel’s site.
At Tuesday’s meeting Councilman Jim Colligan noted that if Reel Point is lost, the cost could be in the tens of million of dollars.
The new engineering drawings “will allow us to estimate materials we need” for work at Reel Point, Mr. Cronin told the board. Last summer the town and the PLT commissioned a $40,000 report from the consulting engineering firms First Coastal Corporation of Westhampton Beach and LKB Consulting Engineers of Syosset to investigate the situation, write a report and suggest plans of action.
One option that seems the most viable in terms of cost effectiveness is to spend $4 million for beach restoration and a barrier of heavy stones to reduce wave action on the shore. Who will pay for that is still subject for discussion.
Mr. Cronin mentioned that the Army Corps of Engineers has been contacted “to make them aware that something is going on” at Reel Point. Supervisor Gary Gerth said he had been in touch with Congressman Lee Zeldin’s (R-Shirley) office to ask if he could exert influence on the Army Corps of Engineers to look into the station at Reel Point.
Matt Swain, a stewardship manager of the PLT, who was at Tuesday’s meeting, noted that his organization has in the past had success with working with the Army Corps of Engineers on projects.
The new drawings, Mr. Cronin said will, in effect, be an action plan for the consultant’s suggestions, and bring “more refinement” to the details of a plan to save Reel Point.
On the issue of maintaining consistent professional care on the Island, Mr. Gerth said he spoken with Dr. Nathanael Desire who has submitted a detailed plan to expand both hours and services. This would be done by forming a non-profit group of doctors, physician assistants, nurses and a nutritionist who could serve the Island’s population.
Dr. Desire and his wife, Dr. Anthonette Desire, established their practice here five years ago, but only on a limited basis. Dr. Peter Kelt, who operates the Island’s only other medical offices, is an employee of NYU-Winthrop Hospital contracted to provide medical coverage on the Island five days a week, either by Dr. Kelt or another medical professional.
Mr. Gerth said he had spoken with Dr. Kelt, but so far has not been able to speak with the hospital on details to secure medical services throughout the week on the Island.
On the issue of the devastation of dozens of trees on Suffolk County Property off Menhaden Lane, Councilman Paul Shepherd asked, “Who is responsible for this?”
More than eight weeks ago, the destruction of the cedar, cherry, locust and other trees were reported to the police, after being discovered by Jean Lawless who brought the news to the Reporter.
Since then there has been no update on the investigation.
Answering Mr. Shepherd’s question, Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said he had been given the name of a detective assigned to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, but as not yet spoken to him.
Police Chief Jim Read told the board that any “information that is given to us we share” with country’s Environmental Investigation Unit. “They are the lead on the case,” Chief Read said. “It’s their obligation to protect their own property.”
“People want to know that they’re fulfilling their obligation,” Mr. Shepherd said.
Murder and corruption at Town Hall? Engineer John Cronin tells a story from the ‘70s
In the middle of a not completely scintillating discussion of details on wastewater removal and treatment, Town Engineer John Cronin dropped a story of high-level corruption and murder into the mix.
Mr. Cronin was addressing the Town Board at its Tuesday work session on the advantages and disadvantages of the “hold and haul” method — removing waste and trucking it away to be treated — as opposed to an on site sewage treatment plant. Concerning the Volunteer Park restroom, Mr. Cronin mentioned that Suffolk County would use an interesting description of the hold and haul system slated for that location by referring to it as a “virtual sewer.”
“The county has a very strong aversion to building sewage treatment plants,” Mr. Cronin added.
Councilman Paul Shepherd asked why.
“It’s a long, long history,” Mr. Cronin said, and spoke briefly about his involvement with the county’s Southwest Sewer District project of the 1970s, which was the largest public works project at the time in the United States.
A senior engineer on the project, which planned to curb pollution in the Great South Bay by building a sewage treatment plant in the southwest corner of the county, Mr. Cronin told the board, “My boss was an engineer named Jack Flynn. Jack was murdered over Southwest Sewer District.”
Mr. Cronin added — you could hear a pin drop — that his boss was “murdered on the morning he was due to turn state’s evidence.”
Reporter columnist Karl Grossman has written about the massive effort, which was, well, a cesspool of corruption: “With federal and state governments paying the lion’s share, the project ended up costing over $1 billion in 1970s’ dollars. In a county long riddled with corruption, it became one of Suffolk’s biggest scandals. There were indictments and convictions. County Executive, John V. N. Klein, lost his office as a result.”
At least he didn’t lose his life.
News reports of the time note that Mr. Flynn was found stabbed to death on July 15, 1979 in Sayville, the result of a lover’s quarrel, the police said. It was on the morning he was scheduled to be arraigned on charges of double billing a county laboratory for equipment.
The suspect, Sue Quinn, had been living with Mr. Flynn, and was the director of the laboratory.
Mr. Cronin told the board, with a smile, that the situation became “a career changer for me.”
Ever since the collapse of the Southwest Sewer District, he added, “the county has been working very hard to avoid building large scale sewage treatment plants.”