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An environmental crime, one year later

REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Cut trees off Menhaden Lane.

Jean Lawless was walking her dogs on Menhaden Lane and took a path not far from the beach that winds through Suffolk County parkland.

Instead of a peaceful stroll through dunes and an undisturbed patch of cedar, cherry, locust and other trees, she came on a scene of environmental desecration. Dozens of the trees had been chain-sawed, leaving stumps and branches scattered everywhere on the protected, publicly owned land.

Ms. Lawless contacted the Reporter and the Shelter Island Police Department, which began an investigation. The department then turned the environmental crime case over to Suffolk County, which had jurisdiction. The county district attorney began an investigation.

That was January 2018, and now, more than a year later, nothing has been resolved. In fact, nothing has been done at all, which a walk on Tuesday through the area showed.

The scene is exactly the same as a year ago — though the dead wood has weathered — with severed, chest-high tree trunks and branches lying twisted and undisturbed from the day they were cut down.

Calls and emails from the Reporter to the district attorney’s office this week requesting information had not been returned by press time.

REPORTER FILE PHOTOS
Illegally cut trees off Menhaden Lane.

Supervisor Gary Gerth said at the time that, whatever punishment might be meted out to the person or persons responsible, he hoped restitution would be made to replace the trees.

Police Chief Jim Read said Monday that his department still investigates leads, but “it’s a county investigation. It’s their property, they took the lead and we assisted following up.”

The case is a difficult one, the chief added, since there were no witnesses identified, no video, “and very little information besides rumor and speculation. Which we did follow up on.”

Mr. Gerth said Tuesday that the county has “pretty well exhausted the investigation.” He noted the county had gone through documents and done interviews but have come up empty.

“It’s been very difficult to find who is culpable,” the supervisor said.

When the incident was discovered, Tim Purtell, chairman of the town’s Green Options Advisory Committee said, “It’s criminal. Those trees belong to all of us.”
More than a year ago, Ms. Lawless raised the issue that the wide area of dead wood was a fire hazard. This week Councilman Paul Shepherd echoed that concern. The supervisor said he was informing Department of Public Works Jay Card Jr. to identify “any kind of threat.”

Mr. Shepherd said he wasn’t sure why there has been no action on the crime or anything done at the scene off Menhaden Lane, speculating that the district attorney has more pressing issues, or there’s a lack of manpower at the county level.

“We don’t know if this was put in a file somewhere” and forgotten, he added. “We don’t know anything.”

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