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Shelter Island Reporter Letters to the Editor: June 23-30

Votes, not appointments

To the Editor:

There is only one option to fill the Town Board vacancy and that is to allow the voters of Shelter Island decide if a candidate is worthy of representing them, not an appointment by the Town Board.

My name is Brett Surerus and I’m on the ballot for the Board this November. I will be working hard to earn your trust, and your vote for the privilege of being sworn in by a mandate of those who want to select their representatives by having their voice heard democratically.

BRETT SURERUS, Shelter Island

A sea change

To the Editor:

Of all the changes of the past 15 months, the most surprising to me turns out to be a change to the laws of nature that has occurred right here on Shelter Island, specifically on the beach at Bootleggers Alley, where dead low tide is now mean high tide.

By law, the public portion of a beach lies below “mean high tide,” defined generally as the midpoint between the highest and lowest high tides, a location that shifts over time due to changes in the tides and the beach, and that may be determined using various methods.

The signage on the beach on the Crab Creek (south) side of Bootleggers indicates that the public portion of the beach is in the water all the time, even at dead low tide, meaning that there is no longer any portion of the beach accessible to the public without going into the water, a beach that has been enjoyed by Shelter Islanders for generations.

Assuming that this was a mistake, I asked about the signs at last week’s Town Board meeting. The answer from the Board, prefaced with “you’re not going to believe this,” was that in the past year, the Town had a survey done, using 30 years of data, that revealed that mean high tide is as indicated by the signs.

As a real estate lawyer, I know that there are multiple ways of determining the location of “mean high tide.” I would respectfully suggest that if the method chosen gives a result that must be prefaced with “you’re not going to believe this,” then another method that reflects reality and common sense should be used.

But unless and until the Town rectifies this situation, I guess we must accept that Bootleggers beach is off limits because low tide is the new high tide.

A sea change indeed.


The real problem

To the Editor:

I sat in that Community Housing board meeting and watched an angry mob, encouraged by two of our Town Board members, shout down one of our citizen volunteers who simply got up to express an opposing viewpoint.

Mr. Colligan’s threat of physical violence against Mr. Kohn was particularly appalling. Mr. Kohn made a strong case that, while taxpayers have an obligation to the poor, the overwhelming majority of this Island, according to the Comprehensive Plan survey, do not want to pay higher taxes to provide housing that people cannot afford simply because they want to live in a better place than they have now.

Nor do they want high-density housing that would make our water quality and supply issues even worse. Higher real estate values, toxic clean up, and legal settlements paid to people getting kidney and bladder cancer will greatly increase our property taxes. If increases in property taxes exceed increases in Social Security payments, the elderly on the Island will lose their homes. That’s the real affordable housing problem.

BETH VAN der EEMS, Shelter Island

Better than this

To the Editor:

The Shelter Island GOP would like to commend Supervisor Siller and Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams for their vote to appoint a new Town Board Member to fill the seat vacated by Mr. Bebon. The new appointee would serve until a special election could take place on November 2.

The decision to block this process by Councilmen Dickson and Colligan was a politically motivated decision. Mr. Dickson and Mr. Colligan had the opportunity to help navigate our local government through the recent turmoil, but decided partisan politics outweighed the greater interests of our community.

We had an opportunity to come together and bring stability to our town. Watching what has happened to our community the last several weeks is both heartbreaking and totally unnecessary. This horrendous decision to not appoint a new Town Board member shows a decisive lack of leadership from half of our Town Board. Their goal was to block a qualified and experienced candidate, and nobody can say, with any sincerity, that their decision had the Island’s best interests at heart.

With the Comprehensive Planning Committee shelved, perhaps permanently, our Community Housing Board on life support, and thousands of taxpayer dollars wasted, our island is left in limbo due to political gamesmanship.

I, like many others, attended the Community Housing Board meeting on June 24th. It is the official position of the Republican Party that affordable housing is necessary for our island to survive economically and culturally. My decision to attend and speak in favor of housing was to show that there is strong bipartisan support for a common sense solution.

While nearly every attendee disagreed with Housing Board member Mr. Kohn, including me, I was appalled at the behavior of Mr. Colligan, an elected Town Board member who challenged Mr. Kohn to “go outside and finish it.”

A fist fight in the parking lot? This is unacceptable behavior from somebody who represents Shelter Island. Many people spoke, with passion and from the heart, yet nobody else resorted to the threat of physical violence. Sadly, this abusive behavior is now a pattern for Mr. Colligan; an independent investigation recommended his removal as Highway Department liaison after a previous aggressive confrontation. We are better than this.

GARY BLADOS, Chairman, Shelter Island Republican Committee


To the Editor:

I had the opportunity to watch a video of Bob Kohn’s presentation at Town Hall Thursday June 24 and found the behavior of most of the audience and two members of the Town Board to be astonishingly poor. Mr. Kohn presented a slide deck of factual information and thoughtful commentary and was interrupted numerous times with such comments as “give him the hook” and “you hate poor people.” During the Q&A afterwards Mr. Kohn was called an idiot by our town supervisor and it was suggested by Councilman Jim Colligan that matters could be settled outside in the parking lot afterwards, as if this was the prelude to a saloon fight.

Based on his experience with several Highway Department employees during this past election season, it’s apparent Mr. Colligan has some anger management issues.

I have reread Mr. Kohn’s slide deck three times and would encourage all citizens of Shelter Island to read it at least once. Overwhelmingly, our fellow citizens’ number one concern is water quality both from our aquifer as well as in our estuaries. Yet these concerns were just trampled by an angry mob that doesn’t appear to be able to connect the dots between high density housing development and threats to our water supply.

I found the treatment of Mr. Kohn to be disgraceful and his concern and the facts he presented deserve plenty of airtime.

JOLANTA ZONCA, Shelter Island


To the Editor:

Watching a replay of last week’s Community Housing Board meeting I was shocked, surprised and outraged. I was stunned by the hatred, abuse and insults hurled upon a member of the island community. Bob Kohn proposed a different but well documented approach to addressing community housing on the island. He did not receive a due process, a hearing or a time for review. Instead, starting at minute three of his presentation, he was heckled by an unruly mob of my neighbors and community members. I think that mob rule has nothing to do with community and everything to do with dictatorship. I was surprised by the behavior of Town Superintendent Gerry Siller. Not only did he not calm the room down and help the civil conversation, he encouraged the hecklers and joined attacks on Bob. He was aptly assisted by Bob’s co-chair of CHB Chris DiOrio. I was appalled by physical threats towards Bob by the Town Board’s senior member, Jim Colligan.

All the meeting participants stated that they deserved something from the community. In my opinion membership in the community means benefits but also obligations, civility and a sense of common good. I came to this country 40 years ago with nothing. I never asked for anything. People who are able to work and make a living are entitled to little more from this “community.” To think otherwise is a recipe for disaster. It is what my wife and I escaped for a better life.

ANDRZEJ ROJEK, Shelter Island

Lack of civility is back

To the Editor:

After having heard much buzz about last week’s Community Housing Board meeting, I went on the town website. Unable to find a link, I surfed YouTube and found one.

Affordable housing is a hot button issue for which a solution obviously needs to be found. What I saw on YouTube was in no way helpful in achieving this goal.  No matter how anyone feels about the issue, having elected officials calling a presenter with an opposing viewpoint stupid, or offering to “meet him in the parking lot” is not good.

This lack of civility surfaced during the discussions on short-term rentals. It is clearly back bigger than before.

Have we become a microcosm of what is happening on the national level, unable to reach consensus and move forward on important issues? From what I saw, it sadly appears so.

CONNIE FISCHER, Shelter Island

Communication and consensus required

To the Editor:

The Community Housing Board (CHB) meeting last Thursday night was regrettable. Instead of presenting its own plan for affordable housing, the Town Board participated in the verbal assassination of a volunteer citizen-member of the CHB. His view may have been unpopular, but he had a right to express it without being shouted down or threatened or insulted. When the meeting degenerated into personal attacks, town leaders should have stepped back and cooled things off.  

Currently the Town Board is looking to enact new rules that could reconstitute the volunteer town advisory committees to include only “like-minded” members, with the ability to terminate those who are not “constructive.” Emphasizing that the town doesn’t need to listen to anyone (the law reserves all legislative action to the Town Board while the advisory committees are just that) serves no purpose and will further alienate those who have been excluded. 

The Town Board should look for support from all constituencies, including older resident taxpayers and second homeowners, and not shut down diverse opinions. It is only through communication and consensus building that the town can lead the community to compromise. We need those diverse views from advisory committees and even more important, we need transparency from the town about legislative plans that go to the very heart of residence on the Island. 


Free speech

To the Editor:

What kind of town government threatens to remove a sitting member of an advisory committee for having a dissenting opinion? Must all people agree with each other (and the town supervisor) in order to serve?

This is outrageous. After a contentious Community Housing Board meeting, one of the members of the CHB was on the Town Board work session agenda Tuesday to be “terminated” from his committee because he voiced opinion that the town supervisor did not agree with.

I believe looking at an issue from all sides and hearing all concerns is how we will find the best solution. As we approach our beautiful nation’s Independence Day, I hope we can remember one of the cornerstones of our Democracy — free speech.

KATHLEEN LYNCH, Shelter Island

Hear their voices

To the Editor:

I streamed the Town Board work session Tuesday.

Nothing much in the past 15 or so years has changed since the Community Housing Board’s (CHB) inception. At the original town meeting regarding the affordable housing legislation, which was to be enacted, I stood up and spoke about my research into other communities housing initiatives. I had spoken to the town managers and housing departments for Nantucket, Southold and East Hampton.

They shared with me their programs and legislation. At our town meeting I pointed out that our legislation needed to include provisions for work force housing and an in-depth survey and research into the specific needs of our community. We had not done any of that.

One of the town councilmen criticized me for not coming forward sooner.

The legislation was clearly cut and pasted from other town’s laws. It wasn’t specific to our town or our needs. The first I saw of the legislation was in the Reporter.

I was trained to read the law. I felt vilified at the meeting for daring to offer criticism for something apparently sacred. I thereafter applied to be on the CHB and was summarily rejected. I had done more research than any Town Board member or the town attorney.

Mr. Kohn should be on the CHB. He is a knowledgeable voice that is necessary for this town’s welfare. While skeptical, he supports his reasons. We need people who think. Mr. Colligan correctly stated that people come here because our island is beautiful. Reality dictates that not everyone who wants to live here can or should. Our tax-paying community should support those qualified for assistance. It is the CHB’s job to determine qualifications that are objective and reasonable. Our town needs knowledgeable people who are willing to contribute their time and skills on the CHB, even if they have ideas that are contrary to other members.

Their voices should be heard.


Help in a time of loss

To the Editor:

Last week’s column by Jennifer Maxson (“Widow’s Walk”) referred to a bereavement group at the Senior Center. We are the co-facilitators. A new six-week session will begin in early August and we plan to offer additional groups throughout the year. 

This is not a therapy group, but a support group for members, with the facilitators’ guidance, to help each other through the difficult time of loss.

If you are interested in joining the August group, please call Nancy at 917-842-8440.


Catastrophe waiting to happen

To the Editor:

On Friday, a child was knocked off his bike by a car on Bridge Street. The child was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, but luckily, was not seriously injured and returned home that day. Both the driver, who was simply pulling out of a parking area, and the child are shaken, of course. 

Route 114, from the North Ferry to the IGA, is ripe for a fatal bike accident, particularly from late-June to mid-August, when children are biking to and from their sailing lessons along 114. Children who reside here all year and those who are here just for the summer are all eligible for the sailing classes, and they are traveling back and forth four times a day,  twice for the morning classes and twice for the afternoon classes. Would it be possible to place a traffic monitor in this area during these high-bike-traffic hours, Monday to Friday?

A biker riding north on 114 encounters a hill, a downward slope, just before the center of Bridge Street, and, of course, picks up speed downhill into the area where cars pulling in and out around the shops. A biker going south also encounters the hill, this time with a steep incline (especially for a child), and exerts more energy to get up the hill — wobbling right and left, or jumping off the bike and walking next to it in the traffic lane!

There is not enough room for two cars and a bike in the stretch of 114 from the area of Piccozzi’s up to the intersection with Winthrop Avenue and possibly beyond, particularly on the straight stretch after Winthrop where drivers pick up speed. Aggravating the problem for a driver going south, in summer, is the issue of how fast his eyes adjust from the bright sun of Bridge Street to the almost total shade of the incline up to the intersection with Winthrop. If there is a small, swerving child walking a bike in the shade, this adjustment has to be more than instantaneous.

A child biker, even with all the safety equipment in the world, is no match for a moving vehicle of any size. Please let’s find a solution for patrolling these narrow and well-traveled spots, before it’s too late.

ROBERTA MARTIN, Shelter Island