Larocca Blasts Friends of Greenbelt, Alleging a Campaign of Insults, Misinformation

Village Trustee and Mayor Sandra Schroeder, responded to public speaker Susan Sprott, defend their handling of the vehicle impound-lot issue at Tuesday's Sag Harbor Village Board meeting. Peter Boody photo

Fed up with what he called lies, insults and misinformation, Sag Harbor Trustee James Larocca led a Village Board counter-offensive at Tuesday night’s monthly Village Board meeting against the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt and their campaign against the board’s plan to put a 60-by-80-foot paved and fenced vehicle impound lot at a former dump site on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike.

“This issue, the history of it, the narrative of it,” said Mr. Larocca, “is filled with misinformation, disinformation, a lack of courtesy and civility, and is spewing insults, personal insults to this board and others.”

He spoke after resident Susan Sprott had gone to the podium, during the final public portion of a long, busy meeting at which the impound yard never came up, to chastise the board for ignoring the opposition and refusing to negotiate.

“I come from a place where negotiation is the only way you can live,” she said. “You have to survive on negotiating and that requires listening to more than one side.”

She disclosed that she had filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the village on January 29 to obtain “all documents, emails and communications, including emails on private servers, showing all communications between our mayor and DeLalio South Fork Asphalt as well as any and all communications relating to this project and its bids by any other company.”

“That’s a lousy way for us to find out what gives here,” she said.

That’s when Mr. Larocca seemed to have had enough.

Noting that the Suffolk County Water Authority has decided its pumping station off Division Street would not be a good site for the impound yard because, the Friends’ president Dai Dayton has said, pollution would threaten to its wells, Mr. Larocca decried the group’s subsequent characterization of the Authority’s decision as equally applicable to the turnpike site, which is adjacent to the environmentally sensitive Long Pond Greenbelt.

“There are no pumping stations in the site inside the dump where the impound yard is to be placed,” Mr. Larocca said, “so to treat them as similar is simply wrong …  I find that shading of that one fact consistent with just the history here.” He said that, after taking time off for a medical issue, he had “gone through every piece of paper that you folks have generated …”

“Wait a second. Excuse me! Excuse me; I am not a member of the Long Pond Greenbelt. I am a citizen, a resident of Sag Harbor …”

“Oh. My apology for that,” Mr. Larocca broke in.

“I am sympathetic. I hear that you’re stressed by presumed inaccuracies. We all are …,” Ms. Sprott said.

“I think it’s important to listen while I put on the record some of what these problems are,” he said, apologizing again for associating her with the Friends but adding “you are reflecting what they have been putting out for quite some time.”

A November 22 full-page ad in the Express, he said, asserted that the Friends’ efforts to meet with village officials “had been with silence. That is simply not true. The mayor has met with members of the committee. I have met with them. The trustees have met with them. I even traveled to Bridgehampton to meet with the leadership” because “they said it would be best if you came to us.”

“The continuing assertion that we have not been responsive is simply not true,” he added. “I can take you through four or five articles” in the local press “and other writings where that theme has been pressed over and over again. That’s not how you resolve a public policy problem like this.”

“Number two,” he went on, the environmental impact of the planned yard on the turnpike site “has been exaggerated … This is a space of 60 by 80 feet in a 23-acre site that has been in one form or other a dump, and … and transfer station and car disposal areas for generations. The greenbelt is beautiful and should be protected to the maximum. The impact of this small addition to this compromised piece of property has been so overstated [that] if I had heard only that, I would be as concerned as anybody else.”

He cited “all kinds of misinformation” aired by critics at a previous board meeting, including that grading would be required and assertions that were “all bolloxed up” about how the village’s Columbia Street parking area, where police now keep impounded vehicles, “is currently being used.”

He and Ms. Sprott got into the issue of her FOIL request, about which Mayor Sandra Schroeder said, “It’s to connect our mayor with somehow doing something wrong with Delalio or somebody?”

“I don’t have all the knowledge of both sides,” Ms. Sprott admitted, but added “I have every single article that’s been in the newspapers … ”

“Well they’re wrong,” the mayor said.

“Are the people who write the editorials …I am a newspaper reader. I read The New York Times.”

“Did you read in the papers that we have been unresponsive?” the mayor asked

“No, I don’t recall that.”

“I don’t put this on the newspapers,” Mr. Larocca said, asserting that they are only reporting what the Friends have alleged. He later added that he had no complaints “about the state of journalism” locally.

Their long conversation ranged to the town’s decision not to buy for preservation the village’s 23-acre former dump site off the turnpike, which Mr. Larocca said the Friends have alleged the village short-circuited. Mr. Larocca said it was not true that the village had never responded to the town’s inquiries about a possible acquisition, which he and the mayor said the Friends have repeatedly charged; he said the mayor had responded by phone instead of filling out a form the town had sent.

The town reviewed the acquisition, he added, and determined it was not appropriate to acquire “a polluted site like the dump.”

“I have never heard anyone from the greenbelt acknowledge that,” he said, even though he said he had explained it to the group’s leadership. A similar claim that the village turned away a county inquiry is false also, he said.

“This thing has built and grown to the point where you believe we’re not doing our jobs fairly or accurately or that we’re not giving access, that we’re not listening,” Mr. Larocca said. “We are listening. We’re trying to listen to what’s true.”

“I hear you,” Ms. Sprott said.

“And the frustration, frankly, is [that] a relatively minor issue has been blown all out of proportion with such consistency and deliberation I think it’s purposeful,” he added. “And I think it’s not a good way to conduct civil discourse.”

Also during the long discussion, Trustee Thomas Gardella expressed regret that “it’s turned out the [Friends of the] Long Pond Greenbelt is against me or the board.”

“If I thought for a second” the impound yard would damage the greenbelt or threaten his children’s future environmentally, “I would not vote for it. But we’re talking about parking cars and putting up a fence,” said Mr. Gardella.

Mr. Larocca described the impound lot as “an open issue” but “we don’t share the view there is a catastrophe in the making.” He said it was “an appropriate use for a deeply compromised property.”

“We’re not talking about the Garden of Eden here,” he added later.