Corish Urges Village Board To Rethink Impound Lot Near Greenbelt

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The site of a future Sag Harbor Village impound yard is in the Long Pond Greenbelt. Stephen J. Kotz photo

“Right now you have the chance to make the right decision for the planet, for Sag Harbor, for the future children,” Caroline Cassa told the Sag Harbor Village Board as an audience in the packed Municipal Building meeting room erupted in applause on Tuesday night.

She was one of 12 speakers who pleaded with the board to reconsider its decision to put a 60-by-80 foot vehicle impound lot for the Sag Harbor Village Police Department on a 24-acre parcel it owns adjacent to the Long Pond Greenbelt, a swath of preserved land connecting a chain of glacial ponds that run from Sagg Pond in Sagaponack to Sag Harbor.

The pleas prompted Trustee Aiden Corish, the only board member who voted against a resolution in October to have plans for the project drawn up, to ask the other board members to set aside time for a meeting to reconsider their decision.

“If ever there was an issue in my time on the board that deserves at least a conversation, this is it,” he said.

Noting that he is a relative newcomer to the village and doesn’t remember when the site contained a village dump many years ago, he added, “This is not something we have to do. We do not have to build a piece of permanent infrastructure,” which can’t be changed or amended the way a decision to adopt a law or code change can be changed.

“This is different,” he said. “This deserves more investigation, it deserves more dialogue. I would hope that before we move ahead to the next stage of this that the mayor and my fellow trustees would set some time aside, so we can discuss this … and see if there is an operational solution that will be workable for everybody.”

No member of the board responded to his comments, which were met with loud, sustained applause.

The first speaker was Frank Quevedo, executive director of the South Fork Natural History Museum, who said the village’s property was a “large amount of habitat” that contained a “very unique ecosystem” for breeding birds, reptiles and amphibians.

“At first we thought you didn’t understand the importance of this property to the health of the animal life, plant life and the waters of the Long Pond Greenbelt,” Dai Dayton, president of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, said. “Then we believed the Southampton Town Planning Board would protect the greenbelt.”

But the Town Planning Board approved the site plan. So “then we believed the DEC would have a say but the project was strategically located 200 feet beyond their jurisdiction,” Ms. Dayton continued. “Now it’s sad to say we believe you do know about the greenbelt and still you do not care. “

“How sad is it that only the eastern tiger salamander can be protected by the DEC,” she said. “What about the spotted salamander, marble salamander, red spotted salamander, green frogs, tree frogs, spring peppers, spotted turtles, box turtles, snapping turtles, eastern milk snake, northern black racers, mud minnows, pumpkin seed sunfish, alewives, perch, chain pickerel, three-spined stickleback, American eel, one hundred species of birds, 38 rare plants, bats, monarchs, eastern tiger swallowtails,” as well as “silver spotted skippers, azure blue and spangled skimmers,” and red fox, chipmunks, squirrels, weasels and otter that inhabit the greenbelt, which she called “one of the most ecologically significant areas in all of New York State.”

She urged the board members “to pick up the phone” and talk to the East Hampton Town supervisor about sharing its police impound lot in Wainscott. “There surely is an alternative,” she added, but her group’s pleas “are met with silence” and inaction.

Diane Lewis, another member of the Friends, spoke of environmental writer Rachel Carson’s analogy to Robert Frost’s poem about taking the road less traveled. There’s the deceptively easy superhighway that is convenient and fast “but at its end lies disaster.” The road less traveled offers “our last and our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth,” Ms. Lewis added. “Please reconsider your decision to pollute the greenbelt with an impound yard. The Long Pond Greenbelt is a rare, unaltered, beautiful stretch of forest that deserves our protection.”

Jean Dawes, also of the Friends, read a letter from Robert DeLuca, president of the environmental Group for the East End, who noted the greenbelt is one of Southampton Town’s “oldest conservation priorities” dating back to its 1972 Master Plan.

He asked the board to reconsider its decision. “I believe reasonable alternatives could still be in reach,” he wrote.

After the comments from the 12 speakers and Mr. Corish, the board voted to close the public comment portion of the meeting and, with no other business on the agenda, went on to close the meeting.

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”