All four East Hampton Town Board hopefuls and Larry Cantwell, the unopposed supervisor candidate, painted themselves as strong supporters of the environment in recent responses to a survey conducted by the East Hampton Environmental Coalition.
Incumbent Councilman Dominick Stanzione, a Republican seeking his second term, gave some of the most thorough answers, pointing heavily to examples from his time in office.
“I took the CPF debacle by the horns and reformed the entire process,” he wrote of the Community Preservation Fund, a preservation program designed to preserve open space and farmland via a 2-percent tax on real estate sales, but was notoriously plundered in the town’s recent past. Describing himself as a member of Greenpeace, a surfer and a “trekker of our national parks,” he says his work on a townwide comprehensive wastewater management plan has been billed one of the biggest environmental and clean-water initiatives of the past decade. He also points to his deciding votes in pulling Fort Pond House in Montauk off the market. In terms of regulation, he calls for the Town Code to blend the environment and the economy into one idea. He proposes a new “U bring it, U take it” law regarding beach litter.
Once a project to protect downtown Montauk from future storms is complete, he said the town’s local hazard mitigation and resiliency plan will be key in studying the long-term alternatives for the hamlet and other areas of town, including a “full retreat” for Beach Hampton, as well as the possibility of removing all “damaging hard rock revetment structures” in East Hampton Village.
Regarding a townwide streetlight policy that would conform to dark sky principles, however, he pointed out that a friend died in a hit-and-run accident on a dark Montauk Highway in Amagansett. “We must understand, you can’t look at the stars at night if your [sic] dead],” he wrote.
Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, a Democrat seeking her first term, pointed out that in her work as an advertising professional, she developed newspaper ads as part of the effort that led to the creation of the CPF in 1998. As a Springs School Board member, she said, the board adopted dark skies-compatible lighting.
“The Town of East Hampton needs to be vigilant when it comes to preserving and protecting our environment,” she wrote. “That’s because a healthy, thriving environment drives a healthy, thriving economy.”
Her responses to questions regarding ground and surface water, coastal issues, dark and quiet skies and habitat protection and stewardship were, variously, “totally committed,” “critical” and “in complete agreement.”
Fred Overton, the town clerk who is running for a first term to the Town Board on the Republican line, said that having been raised on the water as an active fisherman, he learned early the “importance of keeping our harbors and bays clean in order that we could safely eat what we caught and could provide for our families.” This appreciation, he said, led to his serving as a town Trustee to work toward protecting the waterways and beach access rights.
Mr. Overton wrote in favor of most environmental issues, but one common theme in his responses was a concern about unfunded mandates, which he mentioned when asked about examining a range of wastewater treatment technologies and considering a local septic system upgrade program to accelerate the deployment of advanced and decentralized treatment systems, as well as when asked about establishing “flood-proofing” structures, removing infrastructure from flood zones and preserving natural barriers like dunes and beaches and when asked about adopting a townwide streetlight policy to conform with dark sky principles.
Former Councilman Job Potter, a Democrat seeking a return to the board, said he grew up playing in the fields and woods of Stony Hill and “later watched the changes in the landscape with great disappointment.”
With a bachelor’s degree in botany who says he spent most of his time watching and studying terns and gulls on Long Island Sound, he served as a piping plover and least tern volunteer and organizer with the Nature Conservancy, town and Suffolk County. He also said he lobbied for the CPF before he joined the Town Board in 1998. Then, while on the board, he and his fellow council members protected more than 2,000 acres of open space, he said. “I do want to emphasize that the acquisitions side of the program was consistently well run and, on balance, extremely successful,” he said.
Mr. Potter, who, like Mr. Stanzione, gave thorough responses, named groundwater a critical issue. More than $42 million is uncommitted in the CPF, he said. “We should aggressively spend that money, prioritize outreach, push through to closings, expeditiously with willing sellers. Enough foot-dragging.”
On coastal issues, Mr. Potter said the town needs to “grapple with the idea of ‘losing’ development, the idea that on an eroding coastline, if we are not going to seawall the South Fork, many beachfront properties will have to be abandoned. There is nowhere for them to go.”
Mr. Cantwell, meanwhile, pointed to his 37 years as a public official, during which time he advocated for open space preservation, sustainability, groundwater and surface water protection and environmentally sensitive land use.
Full responses are posted at nylcvef.org.
The Town Board candidates also highlighted their support for the town’s current beach-access laws in their responses to a survey administered by the Citizens for Access Rights, a not-for-profit organization that aims to preserve the public’s beach access.
They all agreed to consider condemnation as a means of protecting access in Napeague, should the town lose a current lawsuit over the issue.
Ms. Burke-Gonzalez and Mr. Potter both called for a bigger patrol presence on beaches to tighten enforcement and agreed that the town should appoint a coastal advisory committee, as called for in its local waterfront revitalization plan, or LWRP. Mr. Potter also noted the town should complete its hazard and mitigation plan. Mr. Overton said he supports the current LWRP, but would support Trustee-proposed changes. Mr. Stanzione said he supports the document, but notes it does not completely address catastrophic storm and sea-level rise mitigation.
Full responses, including those of the Trustee, justice, supervisor and Suffolk County Legislature candidates, are posted at citizensforaccessrights.com.