Local leaders discuss environment with concerned citizens

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A panel of local government leaders discussed the state of the environment of the South Fork with a hundred or so concerned South Fork residents at the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton Monday night.

“The Greening of the South Fork”—a forum co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons (LWV), Green and Involved Now, or GAIN, Renewable Energy of Long Island, or RELI, and Oxfam of America, an international relief and development organization—focused on how town and village governments could reduce carbon footprints, conserve energy, and find alternative and creative means of sustainability.

Judith Roth, executive vice president of the LWV, who hosted the event, said that, with Earth Day approaching on April 22, it was time to be mindful of what individuals and the community can do to cut carbon emissions and lessen their impact on the environment. Ms. Roth said that everything people do—from driving their cars, to heating their homes, to choosing what food they eat—affects the environment. She said everyone should push government leaders to “re-green the USA.”

Ms. Roth suggested taking a lesson from Europe and lessening our fear of nuclear power, an idea Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley favored. Mr. Epley, who served on a nuclear powered ship in the U.S. Navy, said many are intimidated by nuclear power. “I’m not,” Mr. Epley said. “The French perfected it, it’s something we should explore in this country.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot said the Town of Southampton was leading the way in making government more environmentally aware and highlighted the recent formation of a green advisory committee by the Town Board, as well as the board’s having signed on to a pledge made by 600 U.S. mayors to cut greenhouse gases.

Ms. Kabot said she wants to make municipal buildings and town vehicles more energy efficient and cited plans for the complex at the town’s campus on Jackson Avenue in Hampton Bays that would include wind turbines, solar panels, and recycled rainwater. “Government should take the lead on the environment,” Ms. Kabot said. “And greener policies are often a wise use of taxpayer dollars.”

East Hampton Town Supervisor Ed McGintee said his town is spending $250,000 on retrofitting Town Hall with more efficient lighting over the next five years and that thermostats in municipal buildings are now controlled by computers to increase efficiency. Mr. McGintee said he was looking to introduce five or six hybrid vehicles into the town fleet. “Every little bit that we can do helps,” Mr. McGintee said.

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman challenged the audience, asking if anyone had walked, biked or driven hybrids to the event. Only a handful responded, which supported Mr. Schneiderman’s assertion that often times words were not followed by actions.

The legislator said that the “opulent” Hamptons, despite its mansions and other signs of affluence, could serve as a model to the rest of the country for sound environmental polices. Mr. Scheiderman said the East End was an ideal spot for wind, solar, and tidal energy and cautioned that without a “change in thinking” the lifestyles people enjoy in the Hamptons were not sustainable.

“We’ve carved up the landscape, our public transportation is lousy, it’s hard to get around on bikes, and we’ve not done a good job on recycling,” he said.

Mr. Schneiderman said that while everyone says they want wind power, no one wants it in their backyard. “Even some environmentalists complain about the blight of wind turbines,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “It’s time for us to walk the walk.”

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Gregory Ferraris concurred with Mr. Schneiderman and said that the environment has become a matter of “popular politics.” There was often “too much talk and not enough action,” Mr. Ferraris said, adding that his village was looking at constructing safe pedestrian and bike paths and talking to schools about limiting the need for driving to purchasing only recycled paper towels for government offices. “But, most importantly, we need to educate the public,” Mr. Ferraris said. The mayor added that he has already seen a shift in thinking and that the event itself was proof.

East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. commented that government “was only as good as its citizens.” Mr. Rickenbach warned of “dire consequences” if the issue of global warming wasn’t addressed and said everyone had a responsibility to take action.

As for the future, Mr. Epley said being good stewards of the environment would require a delicate balance between government taking the lead and not overburdening its citizens with bureaucracy.

“We want development, but not too much development,” Mr. Epley said.

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