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Shelter Island Water Advisory Council asks for dock construction halt

The Water Management Advisory Council wants the Town Board to impose a moratorium on building new docks along the Island’s shoreline. Acting Chairman of the WMAC William Geraghty went before the Board at a recent work session to make the case for pausing construction.

Mr. Geraghty said that there were several important reasons for a moratorium, including, he said, “Rapid growth and spread of development are increasing demands on Shelter Island’s natural resources, including our shoreline. The strong response to some recent dock permit applications by both the members of the WMAC and the public suggests there is a growing mismatch between Town code, as written, and the needs of our community. This gap is underscored by the significant number of permit applications that have sought and eventually been granted variances from the code.”

It’s in all Islanders’ interests, not just homeowners with waterfront property, to engage in a thorough review of the situation, Mr. Geraghty said, adding, “Consideration must be given to protect, preserve and maintain our natural assets, a healthy environment, fishing, shell fishing, swimming, recreation, access, aesthetic value, safety, cultural importance and economic benefit. It is necessary to establish a limited duration moratorium on permitting or construction of new docks.”

The current Town Code doesn’t consider what Mr. Geraghty described as  an “extremely diverse nature of the Island’s shoreline, which consists of creeks, bays, harbors and open waters.”

He outlined a sure sign of development of the Island shores, warning that 400 docks could dot the waterways if every waterfront lot applied for a dock. “During the 12-month period from August of 2022 through July 2023,”  Mr. Geraghty said, “there were 18 dock applications with 12 of them requiring variances based on the application details as presented and four presenting situations not addressed by the current code.”

Once docks are installed, he noted, it’s extremely rare they are ever removed, with many Island docks almost a century old.

Mr. Geraghty and his WMAC colleagues said a moratorium would, among other things:

• Provide time to determine criteria for considering installations in each portion of the Island’s shoreline and to consider design alternatives.

• Prevent construction of unwise, impractical, potentially dangerous structures that may cause harm to the public and the environment.

• Prevent hasty decisions that could establish poor precedent or adversely impact landowners, the general public and the environment.

• Mitigate conflicts and concern about fair implementation and equal treatment of permit applicants, their neighbors and the general public.

• Enable integration of findings from the ongoing Comprehensive Plan development process into the dock code.

The Board was in favor of exploring the possibility of a moratorium, with questions on how long it would be in place, and also, how long the discussion on the issue would be before a vote could be taken.

Mr. Geraghty agreed that time is of the essence.