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Year in Review: Criminal tree cutting still unresolved

Illegally cut trees off Menhaden Lane.

Over the next several days, leading to the New Year, the Reporter will be posting our annual Year In Review series of important stories from 2018.

In a brutal environmental crime, Suffolk County officials and the Shelter Island Police Department have remained mum about an ongoing investigation into several acres of trees off Menhaden Lane that were destroyed in January.

Town Board members were initially concerned that the investigation may fall through the cracks, leaving the question of who was responsible for the illegal tree cutting on county-owned land unanswered. But there has been no public comment on the event by elected officials in months.

In January it was reported that cedar, cherry, locust and other trees had been sliced in half with wood lying on the ground. Resident Jean Lawless, who brought the matter to the Reporter and town officials, found the site while walking her dog.

“It’s criminal,” said Tim Purtell, chairman of the town’s Green Options Advisory Committee. Mr. Purtell, a Reporter nature columnist, is an activist with the environmental groups Friends of Trees and Vinebusters.

“Those trees belong to all of us,” he said.

There are a number of rumors around that are not true, Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said at a March Town Board work session.

“We need to turn up the heat a little,” Councilman Jim Colligan then said  there was  a lack of information coming from the county.

Right after the damage was reported to police, Police Chief Jim Read said it would be under investigation, but no information would be forthcoming until the case was completed.

Because the area where the tree cutting occurred is Suffolk County parkland, local police called in the Suffolk County Parks Department to investigate.

Board members said they had learned that the issue was no longer in the hands of the Suffolk County Parks Department, but apparently is being handled by investigators from the County District Attorney’s office.

Efforts to get an update on the status of that investigation have been unsuccessful. A spokesperson for the Suffolk County DA originally said the matter was under investigation, but recently didn’t return calls.

Councilman Paul Shepherd said that someone coming to a property on the Island and cutting down trees is an affront to the entire community.

The Town Board and the community need to know who is responsible for the damage, he added, and what is being done to identify and subsequently punish the person or persons responsible.

But for almost a year, the silence has been deafening.