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Officials call for curtailing holiday celebrations: COVID concerns are paramount

With the holidays here, along with a new surge of the COVIID-19 coronaovirus, Shelter Island officials are expressing concern about residents traveling and attending events.

While Suffolk County is reporting 23 cases of the virus on Shelter Island, Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams told the Town Board at Tuesday’s work session that number is at 35 to 36 cases.

What is most alarming is that two-thirds of those cases have happened in the past two months compared with the one-third that occurred over a seven-month period from the time the pandemic started at the beginning March.

Ms. Brach Williams and Supervisor Gerry Siller said they understand people’s desire to celebrate the holidays with members of their family and friends, but Mr. Siller appealed to them, saying he knows it’s a lot to give up this year’s holiday celebrations, but they need to weigh that against the possibility of not being around for celebrations in future years because of what has become a rapid spreading of COVID-19.

Not only are East End hospitals seeing more local patients, filling these hospitals, but Peconic Bay Medical Center hospital is already experiencing “load balancing,” in which some COVID patients from towns farther west on Long Island are being moved here to avoid overloads where they live.

People think testing negative in advance of travel means they’re safe, Ms. Brach Williams  said. But a test represents a moment in time. There’s no guarantee that people who test negative now will still be negative by the time they party later.

Citing national statistics of those who have died from COVID-19, Councilman Jim Colligan said behind every number, there’s a face and a family.

“We’re a long way from beating this thing,” Mr. Colligan said. “Let’s not let our guard down.”

Paying for church water improvements

The Town Board set the stage for adoption of a resolution that would enable Community Preservation Fund money — 20% of which can be used for water quality improvement projects — to be used to pay for mandated changes to the water system at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church.

In November 2018, it was determined that the church, which, provides its hall and kitchen for use by the town’s Senior Nutrition Program, had high levels of nitrates that needed to be eliminated. Because the town uses the premises, the water is deemed to be public and, therefore, the bill for repairs must come from revenues rather than church funds by order of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

The town has paid $64,602 so far, but to help keep the 2021 budget in check, Mr. Siller suggested that Water Quality Improvement committee money be used to pay for the repairs.

Town Engineer Joe Finora and Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. agreed that legislation creating the fund allows for such use for what they see as a water quality improvement project.

But Councilman Albert Dickson argued that the changes represent what is known as “end of the pipe” repairs not meant to be paid for with WQI money.

The work must be done or the town could face stiff fines, Mr. Colligan said. Parts have already been ordered for the project the County Health Department has approved, and work needs to proceed on installation, he said.

On Dec. 30, at a meeting intended to try to close out some pending matters in the fiscal year that ends the next day, the board intends to pass a resolution providing for payments from the WQI money with a proviso that if it is eventually found by the state to be an incorrect use, it would be paid back to the fund from money in town’s reserve fund.

But before a resolution can be passed, it’s necessary to hold a public hearing so a date for the hearing will be set next week.

Relief, but how much?

The just passed COVID-19 federal relief package includes money to offset losses among transportation companies, including Shelter Island’s two ferry services.

Officials at both North and South ferries will have to enter applications for funds. Just how much they receive will be determined in awards to come at a later date. But the original proposed relief bill called for $8 billion to be expended on transportation relief. Congress approved $2 billion.


Erosion resulting from storm damage is plaguing a number of sites around the Island, Mr. Colligan told his colleagues. Among them is an area at Shell Beach that is sorely in need of remedial action.

Reel Point, which has undergone a great deal of remediation through the years and is due for a project undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers, has lost 20 to 25 feet of sand that may need to be dredged from where it has landed. Regular storms result in waves that start at Block Island and build as they travel to Reel Point are increasing the erosion, Mr. Colligan said.

It’s critical that the Army Corps of Engineers moves sooner rather than later to construct a more permanent protection without which millions of dollars of business and residential properties could be devastated, he said.

Wetlands revisions

For years, projects that have required wetlands permits for construction to take place have received lengthy documents citing various requirements to qualify for those permits. To shorten the process, the Town Board is looking at document meant to codify many requirements that must be met by applicants so they don’t have to be spelled out each time.

At the same time, the Town Board would retain the right to waive some of those typical requirements if they deem it appropriate for some applicants. Review of the document will continue next week.