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Shelter Island Reporter Letters to the Editor: March 30, 2023

Wetlands under siege

To the Editor:

Last week, the Town Board proposed changes to the wetlands review process that would move final approval of wetlands permits from the Town Board to the Planning Board (“Objections to wetland changes,” March 23). As the past supervisor responsible for writing the original core of the Town’s wetlands code provisions, I thought I would offer my thoughts.

While I have every respect for the competence and fine work of the Planning Board, I stand with the speakers who expressed strong opposition to this change at last Tuesday’s public hearing.

When we originally proposed wetlands protections during my first term in 2001, many were skeptical. Some feared it might unreasonably encroach upon landowner rights. But it was my view that preventing others from destroying our precious wetlands, protected my homeowner rights. It’s not only our right, but our duty to protect and retain the natural beauty of our island’s ecology, aquifer, and habitat, for generations to come.

Fortunately, we won the day, and the protections were enacted. Given the increased amount of development since 2001, particularly along our shorelines, our decision was the right one.

We took a balanced approach. It’s no accident that we required that the Conservation Advisory Council and Planning Board review and weigh in on wetlands applications. These boards bring perspectives and expertise that are crucial to balanced decision making.

Protecting our environment is one of the most important responsibilities of the Town Board. But I fear the idea of fully delegating this important responsibility to a lower level would reduce transparency and public involvement in the process, not to mention the message it may send about town priorities.

At last week’s hearing, a speaker stated that our “wetlands are under siege.” I agree, and it’s only going to get worse if we don’t give the wetlands permitting process the priority and transparency it deserves.

ART WILLIAMS, Shelter Island

— Editor’s note: Mr. Williams is a candidate for election to the Town Board in November.

Question for the town

To the Editor:

A consultant for the town last week defended the proposed wastewater treatment plant for Manwaring Road. The plan, he contended, would result in a net nitrogen reduction of 98.6% from the current flow. But it was entirely misleading to compare the proposal to the status quo. The true question before the town is not whether we should proceed with the Manwaring project or do nothing, but whether we should instead install individual I/A systems at the source of each outflow, such as at the school.

Obviously, if the individual I/A systems would result in a net nitrogen reduction of 97%, then the marginal benefit of the Manwaring system would be minimal — a real net nitrogen reduction of less than 2%, not 98.6%. Then the question is, what is the public health benefit of that marginal 2% reduction and what will achieving that marginal benefit cost? And finally, is it worth the cost?

Common sense would lead to a resounding “no.” No study has been presented showing that an additional 2% or so reduction in nitrogen would have any health benefit at all. And we know that the individual I/A systems would be far cheaper than transferring the problem a mile away.

The consultant’s presentation made no mention of individual I/A systems, except to say a “cost per pound per year” comparison between alternatives would be “not applicable.” After questioning, the town engineer conceded the consultant’s presentation was missing that information, suggesting that such a comparison was included in previous documentation. He promised to provide it.

Our residents need more than platitudes about the need to reduce nitrogen outflow. We need facts. And we need them as part of a real, understandable, and credible comparison of apples to apples on both the marginal costs and marginal benefits of the two alternatives.

BOB KOHN, Shelter Island

Almost at a loss

To the Editor:

Here in the best of all possible worlds, where the Theater of the Absurd meets the Dawn of the Politically Undead, as yet another political Circus Season readies itself in the wings, I’m almost at a loss … almost.

The town Attorney “pledges allegiance” to us, and compares himself to Fred Thiele in defending his pending divided attentions. Well, to borrow from Senator Lloyd Bentsen, he is no Fred Thiele, nor should his pledge comfort us overmuch.

Then there is the Ethics Board, which seeks to “expand its role.” Please, be careful. Ethics are a moving target at best. The Ethics Board is supposed to be a management tool, and not meant to publicly pillory people for alleged wrongdoings.

I could marvel that Mr. Siller was somehow able to persuade the same engineering firm he originally paid too much to say what he wanted to hear, to say it again, but louder, and with more conviction. That makes it all true, of course.

That led to Mr. Colligan unleashing another barrage of bombast regarding the Town Board’s determination to do “whatever it takes” to clean up the water in the Center. Whatever, that is, except the least expensive and most obvious.

Which brings us to our own Pompous Pilot, captain of our now nearly crippled democracy, and his iceberg administration, of which you see a 10th of what is there to see. The rest lurks below, revealed to those who waited too long to steer clear.

The Captain has been fond of saying that Shelter Island is at a “dangerous” time in its history. I fear he has neglected to mention himself as the Danger in Chief.

PAUL SHEPHERD, Shelter Island

— Editor’s note: Mr. Shepherd is a former town councilman

Large house moratorium

To the Editor:

My husband, James Lawless, and I, year-round residents of Shelter Island, are in favor of a large house moratorium. I work as a landscape architect, on the South Fork, and I have witnessed how rapidly these houses go up, and how they permanently change the landscape and community.

My largest concern is the environment, especially Shelter Island’s fragile aquifer. Shelter Island’s natural resources are finite; once they are gone, they are forever gone.

Taking the time and having the courage to set limits will benefit the community as a whole. Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have stringent building codes and a strong dedication to retaining open land. As a result, their community’s value — real estate value — has skyrocketed. People are naturally attracted to coherent, scaled communities. So any concerns about reduced resale value can be eliminated. The data is there.

It should be noted that anyone can build a large house, with no delay. This will only affect houses over 6,000 square-feet. Please contact the town if you are in favor of the moratorium.


A modest proposal

To the Editor:

Islands have always attracted gadflies. There is something about being surrounded by water that brings out the against-the-grain contrarian frame of mind.

In ye olden days (around 30 years ago) options for Island gadflies were limited. There was buttonholing at the IGA and Post Office, Reporter letters to the editor, and bar stool pontificating at The Dory. Legendary flies like Mal Nevel often worked them all.

Like so much else that has changed on the Island, the new locale of choice is the courtroom. All the usual disagreements over property and policy are now in the hands of litigators. Suing the town has replaced The Dory for dispute resolution.

So, it might be time for the Reporter to add a new weekly feature. Next to the police blotter should be “court calendar.” Rather than getting the latest litigation updates at Island venues second hand, it would be useful to have the updates on motions tendered and denied, appeals filed and changed and judgments rendered. Bench comments and recommendations should be included.

Of course settlements reached and rulings made would enlighten. As in the blotter the cost to participants would be useful. Instead of reporting fines for speeding, an estimate of the attorney’s fees would suffice.

JONATHAN RUSSO, Shelter Island