Featured Story
07/04/14 8:00am
REPORTER FILE PHOTO|

REPORTER FILE PHOTO|

What’s the rush?
To the Editor:
Last February the Fire Commissioners said they had to have a new cell tower on Cobbetts Lane because Southold was switching to a “high-band” emergency communications system and the Island had to follow suit.

Southold has since confirmed that isn’t true, and the commissioners have acknowledged they could put up a high-band antenna on the existing tower at the Recycling Center if they wanted to. When then asked why they still needed a new tower, the commissioners mentioned “dead spots” in the Hay Beach area. But dead spots can be addressed with other technologies that don’t require a 120-foot tower in the middle of a residential area. Cell nodes on utility poles, an upgrade of the existing tower and a new but much shorter tower are possibilities that should be considered. When asked whether they were going to look into alternative solutions, the commissioners simply said no.

You have to wonder what is really behind the tower proposal. If town officials are willing to sell off our precious natural assets, which is what this would involve, in order to raise some money‎, without giving serious consideration to whether this is really necessary, and without fully disclosing the financial motivation behind the project — what’s the money for, who’s going to decide and is this a sustainable fiscal strategy? — then they are setting a very bad precedent for the future.

We need thoughtful government focused on the long-term well-being of the Island, not short-term gain, that does its homework and is accountable for the reasons why and the manner in which it wants to fill its coffers. All who care about the future of this special Island should be concerned about this proposal and the way it is being handled. ‎There are plenty of other natural assets that can be sold off if this is the path to be taken.

Let us hope the Town Board takes a more thoughtful approach when it considers whether to grant a special permit for the tower. Knowing our alternatives is an essential first step and an independent engineer can tell us what they are. The board should use its authority under the Town Code to hire an independent expert, with costs paid by the developer, to figure out what the communications problems really are and whether a new tower is really necessary to solve them. Let’s not sell out if we don’t have to.
DAVID HARMS
Shelter Island

History calling
To the Editor:
In my travels “doing” history, I almost daily come upon stories that I could delve into and tell, if only I had more hours in the day. And, the more I “do,” the more stories there are that are brought to my attention. Some examples are: Shelter Island native and New York entrepreneur Renssaelaer Havens’ role in the life of Shelter Island’s youth in the early 19th century; Mr. Worthington, the birder, whose file sits on my desk; the DEC’s effort to deal with nuisance deer in 1916; and the financial plight of Mary Catherine Havens L’Hommedieu after her husband died in 1811.

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories hidden in the archives of the Shelter Island Historical Society and also the Sylvester Manor Collection at the Fales Library at New York University, where unfortunately, much of Shelter Island’s history resides.

I have a 15-year-old working with me on the Dering letters transcriptions  this summer who has accepted the challenge to write a play based on some of the Dering letters at the Historical Society between a 12-year-old girl and her father. A professional playwright has agreed to consult with her. How exciting can that be?

I believe there must be other self-motivated teenagers on this Island this summer able to spend a good part of their time during the next six to eight weeks exploring a story, solving its mysteries and writing it up for publication.

And I have no doubt there are retired men and women with pied-a-terres in New York City who would welcome an excuse to explore the files at the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, Columbia University and the Fales. If only they just knew where to start.

Are there others who must explore locally who appreciate a good mystery and would feel challenged to solve it on their own? Folks like me can direct them in the right direction and consult along the way.
For your first assignment, call me at 749-3028 or Phyllis Wallace at the Historical Society, 749-0025.
PATRICIA SHILLINGBURG
Shelter Island

Featured Story
06/27/14 8:00am
REPORTER FILE PHOTO

REPORTER FILE PHOTO

Get involved
To the Editor:

Now that we have begun to investigate the PSEG substation, we’re finding that there have been many discussions between the parties and there is an option that was presented to the Town Board early this year that seems to have been swept under the table for reasons unknown. (more…)

Featured Story
03/07/14 10:00am
REPORTER FILE PHOTO

REPORTER FILE PHOTO

Get real on tower
To the Editor:
I attended last Monday’s Fire Commissioners meeting on Mr. Mooney’s cell tower (“Residents pack cell tower meeting,” February 27). The Commissioners identified three communication needs:

1. Shorter term improvement to the Fire and Police department low band radio systems;
2. Longer term (3 to 5 years) conversion from low band to the high band radio system;
3. Elimination of residential cellphone dead zones on the north end of Shelter Island. (more…)

09/09/13 1:00pm

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Looking over new procedures are Shelter Island Fire Chief John D’Amato (front) and Fire District Commission Chairman Andy Steinmuller.

Because of perceived, and sometimes real, friction between the fire department and the fire commissioners, Chief John D’Amato and Fire Commission Chairman Andy Steinmuller met with the Reporter last week to clear up some misconceptions.

You know when a fire alarm sounds on Shelter Island, those men and women who respond are your volunteer firefighters. But who are the others you read about who sometimes seem at odds with the fire department ­— fire commissioners — who may or may not be firefighters? They seem to have a lot to say about how the department functions, but who gives them that right?

You do.

That is, you do if you vote in fire district elections typically held in December.

What Chief D’Amato and Chairman Andy Steinmuller want you to know is there might be differences of opinion at times, but they’re both on the same side.

“It’s not an adversarial relationship,” Chief D’Amato said. But there is “push-pull” between the two because it’s up to the department’s three chiefs to request money for equipment and up to the commissioners to decide what the district can afford.

Where does the money come from? Taxpayers, said Mr. Steinmuller, explaining that commissioners adopt an annual budget, a process currently under way for 2014. The district commissioners are obligated to track how money is being used and when it can be moved from one account to another.

What does it cost the taxpayer annually? Surprisingly little, according to District Treasurer Amber Williams. If your house is assessed at $640,000, you’re paying $176 for fire fighting services.

“We’re controlled by the state,” Mr. Steinmuller said about the procedures the commissioners must meet in budgeting. “And every year, they come up with a new requirement.”

It’s similar to how school districts must comply with state and federal mandates affecting curriculum and procedures, but often aren’t given enough money to cover the costs of such compliance, Mr. Steinmuller said. Fire District commissioners must figure out how to juggle the tax money they receive to ensure they’re complying with mandates pertaining to training and equipment, among other expenses.

If the chiefs sometimes seem frustrated in their efforts to get equipment they believe is vital to their operations, it’s not because the commissioners fail to understand the need. It’s because they simply don’t have the funds, Mr. Steinmuller said.

One cause of friction concerns the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. When OSHA laid down requirements to protect firefighters, all agreed compliance was important. But the cost of reviewing the department’s procedures and equipment and training members in those procedures could cost $10,000 or more. When commissioners heard there might be someone local who could do the job for $500, they naturally jumped at the lower figure, but have since had problems slotting in the consultant to do the job by the December 31 deadline.

Chiefs were cynical from the start that the job could be done for so little money. Now all parties are scrambling to find a way to bring the department into compliance.

That’s what prompted Chief D’Amato to complain there’s not a written contract with the person who was to do OSHA training and evaluation. The days of handshake contracts are over, the chief said. By state law, when a bid is awarded, a written agreement must establish start and finish dates for each project and stipulate other elements that must be met by the winning contractor. It’s that written contract that protects both the district and the contractor’s interests, Chief D’Amato said.

Mr. Steinmuller agreed that going forward, such contracts would be put in place.

Another question is money the department raises from events like its Chicken Barbecue and Country Fair. Some of that may go to offsetting the costs of equipment, typically paid for by the commissioners with tax money. But mainly the money from events goes back to the community through scholarships, a program to offset the costs of heating oil, and signs needed to ensure firefighters can find houses when an alarm sounds.

A tiny amount is spent to provide some meals for firefighters. By law, the district can provide only water for firefighters on the job “so we don’t die of thirst,” Chief D’Amato said. But if it’s a lengthy fire, the district can’t pay for food, so that comes out of department money — a small price to pay for the volunteers, the chief said.

“We’re not a rich district here,” Mr. Steinmuller said. With the 2 percent cap on tax increases imposed by New York State, it’s hard to cover increasing expenses, he added.

“Everybody in that room is a taxpayer,” Chief D’Amato said, meaning everyone wants to keep spending in check.

Both the fire district and fire department have their own sets of policies. But it’s up to the commissioners to create the over-arching policies that inform how both function.

“We’re constantly trying to update and stay with the current knowledge,” Chief D’Amato said about requests he and the other chiefs make to the district commissioners. “Fire service, like the rest of the world, is changing and there’s always a tug and pull between the old guard and new procedures,” he said.

“John has opened up our eyes a lot of times on certain things,” Mr. Steinmuller said.