As Designated Historian and Poet Laureate of the Shelter Island Bridge and Tunnel Authority, I am hereby authorized to express SIBTA’s deep shock and humiliation at not being at least consulted on the current LIPA cable project. SIBTA, being an organization with a long and checkered history of providing alternate means of access to our fabled isle, could have provided valuable logistical support and expertise. But we weren’t asked.
According to the local highway superintendent, the “tunnel” (yes, you read that right SIBTA shareholders), will be a whopping 42 inches in diameter! SIBTA is quite rightfully very concerned and has some questions for which Islanders have a right to an answer. Why do we need such a large tunnel for an electric cable? Will other organizations be leasing “tunnel space” from LIPA? Who is going to make sure that people won’t start crawling to Greenport and back, avoiding SIBTA and North Ferry Company passenger fares? This is an outrage!
And of course the elephant in the room, or the harbor seal in the water, is the one question that no one but SIBTA dares to ask: If now “just a 42- inch tunnel,” how long before there is a petition to enlarge the tunnel to a car or truck width, thereby bankrupting the two aforementioned transit companies and ruining forever life as we know it on our up-to-now moat-protected enclave? Islanders have a right to know!
The reason we “need” this cable is because supposedly we only have one shaky cable and another that has been put out of commission by Superstorm Sandy. (Seems like everything from the price of gas to high school test scores has been blamed on this one storm.) We hear little of the bonehead sailor who last year tore up the electric cable with an anchor from his mega-yacht, unfortunately not giving him a good jolt in the process.
On a recent trip to the beach, Helpmate and I noticed a large chunk of the beach that has now been rendered unusable because of the upcoming cable project. You can bet that even though this is supposed to be only a “six week” interruption, you can be sure that lawyers, insurance companies, piping plover and osprey advocates will force the job right into the height of mid-summer season. This means that the mega-yachts, shuttle services and seaplanes to whom our town fathers have so graciously afforded unfettered access to what is ostensibly a “public beach” will be forced to inch westward into the swimming area. And what about the parking? How many spaces that would usually be used by snooty off-Islanders who ignore parking fines and provide an income stream to the town will be co-opted by this project?
It used to be so easy. You could drive to the beach. Park. Get out and pitch your umbrella. Swim — with or without your dog. Eat. Drink. Fish. Sleep. Fast forward to the present day. One beach has been taken over by a business that thinks it’s their own. Two other beaches are “not bathing beaches.” Several town landings have serious signs nearby warning those who might trespass on a beach “owned” by a property owner or neighborhood association. The only fresh swimming hole on the Island has been rendered almost inaccessible by crabby neighbors and the never-ending tentacles of the health department. And at the few places where you can actually legally swim, even more signage tells you of a whole list of things you can’t do.
When I was a lad working at a hotel on the Jersey shore, it was almost impossible to find a place on the ocean to swim without risking a fine, paying a fee or needing a permit.
I walked up to a beach guard once and spoke with him.
“Why does the town charge to have access to the beach? Do they own it?”
“Why no, they don’t.”
“What do they use the money for?”
“Well, let’s see … they pay my salary.”
“What do you do?”
“I make sure people pay the fee.”
“Oh, now I get it. Thanks.”
Sigh. Things haven’t changed much. I have been fortunate enough to swim and snorkel off some absolutely gorgeous beaches around the world. What’s notable about nearly all of them is that there are no signs telling you to get off, or that the beach is private property or that you can’t swim, camp, fish, walk dogs or play music. There are no signs that say “private beach” because, it seems, the beaches belong to everyone.
What a concept.
The last thing we need this season, one that seems to be having real trouble warming up, is less beach. So besides the nefarious doings of public utilities, we need property owners, associations, lawyers, insurance companies and the ever-dreaded health department to just lighten up a little.
If only LIPA had contacted the Shelter Island Bridge and Tunnel Authority, a proven expert in tunneling. We’d have been done already! But I tell you this — they had better be done in time for the fireworks display.
Hope they bring matches this year!