Westhampton Beach Village officials are splitting the cost of purchasing cots and bedding supplies for an emergency shelter with neighboring Quogue and West Hampton Dunes villages, giving the residents of the three municipalities the option of seeking cover at the Westhampton Beach High School during severe storms.
During a Board of Trustees work session last Wednesday night, July 17, Westhampton Beach Police Chief Ray Dean said the local leaders met recently and agreed to purchase enough supplies to accommodate about 300 people at the shelter at a cost of about $20,000, with Quogue covering 40 percent, West Hampton Dunes covering about 5 percent, and Westhampton Beach Village picking up the remainder. Should village and law enforcement officials choose to open the shelter, it would be available to residents of all three municipalities.
Last September, Westhampton Beach Village officials signed an agreement with the district that allows them to open the Lilac Road school as a shelter in cases of severe weather, such as hurricanes or winter storms that result in prolonged power outages. The school district has a contract with the American Red Cross allowing it to set up an emergency shelter at the high school, but village officials said they grew frustrated when the agency did not open the school during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and, before that, Hurricane Irene in August 2011, though portions of all three villages were under mandatory evacuation.
Red Cross officials have explained in the past that they did not open the school as a shelter due to its proximity to the village’s flood zone, though Chief Dean said it has been used as a shelter in the past and noted that the building sits to the north of the flood zone.
“We came to the conclusion that we should really be self-sufficient and not be reliant on other agencies,” Chief Dean said. “I really think it’s a good, proactive thing to do, and we’ll be ready for the next storm.”
Under the plan, Westhampton Beach Village will purchase the equipment—including pillows, blankets, cots and specialized cots for individuals with special needs—from a company called ProPac, based in Charleston, South Carolina, which also supplies the Red Cross. The villages are required to cover the cost of supplies for the initial opening of the shelter, but if they need to be replaced after a storm, village officials said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse those costs.
Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius explained that residents of his village should have enough time to make other accommodations though, in the past, some have sought shelter at the Quogue Firehouse on Jessup Lane.
“This way things are more in our own hands,” he said, of the decision to open the shelter in Westhampton Beach. “It’s something that we ought to be prepared for as governments.”
West Hampton Dunes Mayor Gary Vegliante could not be reached for comment.
Currently, those who must evacuate their homes in western Southampton Town typically have the option of seeking shelter at the Hampton Bays High School, located off East Argonne Road, or at the eastern campus of Suffolk County Community College, located in Northampton.
Also during last week’s meeting, Westhampton Beach trustees discussed a proposed amendment to the village zoning code that would place a time limit of two years on all variances granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals, increasing the municipality’s oversight of development projects.
The code, as currently written, states that the ZBA may choose to impose a time limit of one year on variances unless a building permit is obtained and construction has begun, or the ZBA grants an extension. The proposed amendment would place a time limit of two years on all variances. If the variance is not acted on and the work not completed in that time frame, the developers or property owners would be required to resubmit an application.
“In many instances, the board would again grant [the variance], but at least by putting a time limit in, you’re allowing the board to review it again to see if other circumstances have changed,” Village Attorney Richard Haefeli explained.
The board is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed change during its next meeting on Thursday, August 1.