By a narrow, 3-2, margin, the Southampton Town Board approved the creation of an underground utility district encompassing 18 parcels in the Bay Point section of Noyac, which will allow property owners to fund the removal of nine utility poles and the burial of power lines on Long Beach Road at a cost of $420,000, to be bonded over 20 years.
Councilwomen Julie Lofstad and Christine Scalera cast dissenting votes against the Cliff Drive Underground Utility District, noting property owners’ arguments that the district will largely benefit only homeowners in that neighborhood.
The creation of underground utility districts in the town became possible after a bill cosponsored by New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Ken LaValle was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2017. The utility districts, under the bill, operate like a sewer district, brought forward either by the town or by public petition. A minimum of 50 percent of affected property owners must sign a petition put forward by a particular neighborhood or group of neighborhoods. If suggested by the town board, a district would be subject to a permissive referendum.
In this case, ultimately, it was a group of property owners in Bay Point who would petition the town board to remove these particular poles and lines, led by North Haven Mayor and Bay Point property owner Jeffrey Sander. Originally, a proposal was floated through the town board proposed by Mr. Sander and residents of Cliff Drive in Bay Point, to bury all the lines on Long Beach Road at an estimated cost of $1.745 million in an effort to improve the scenic vista and make an ongoing FEMA-funded storm-hardening project unnecessary. That cost would have largely been borne by residents of the Sag Harbor School District, minus the actual Village of Sag Harbor, with residents of Cliff Drive defraying the cost by $200,000.
After public opposition emerged, largely from residents of Noyac, the plan was retooled a new petition proposed by residents of Cliff Drive, smaller in scale and cost, which will be borne solely by 18 residents in the newly created district.
According to Assistant Town Attorney Kathleen Murray, the petition needed to be signed by homeowners equaling at least 50 percent of the group’s assessed valuation, which is just over $23 million. The signed petitioners, said Ms. Murray, have an assessed value of over $18 million, or 81 percent of the assessed valuation. The proposed cost to each of the 18 property owners is also based on assessed value and averages around $1,421 annually over 20 years and four residents have not signed the petition supporting the creation of the district.
“When my family purchased and built the house there were no lines on Noyac Road,” said Mr. Sander, who now owns his original family home in Bay Point and a neighboring parcel. “When they were finally put in it was somewhat devastating. It was always my family’s desire to see them buried.”
“I think while the assessment will be imposed on those who don’t support it, the benefit will be for everyone once those poles are gone,” added Mr. Sander.
While many property owners spoke on Tuesday in support of the district, one of the residents who has not signed the petition is Joseph Hennessey, a longtime resident, former New Jersey firefighter and Korean War veteran. On Tuesday, his niece, Koral Gregor, spoke on behalf of her uncle.
“He is 87 years old,” she said. “He told me the poles do not bother him — they never have. But he doesn’t have the funds for this.”
At the close of public comment, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman asked Mr. Sander how the community was prepared to handle situations where seniors on fixed incomes would struggle to make the payment. Mr. Sander said the neighborhood would support Mr. Hennessey if necessary, although Ms. Gregor said some of the benefits he receives could preclude that support. While she acknowledged the property value of her uncle’s property would likely increase, she said ultimately, her responsibility was to share her uncle’s wishes and present his concerns to the board.
With the understanding that Ms. Gregor and the neighborhood had largely committed to ensuring Mr. Hennessey through the creation of the district, Mr. Schneiderman said he would support the creation of the district, citing the “extraordinary” support the neighborhood petition received. Both Councilmen John Bouvier and Tommy John Schiavoni — who sponsored the resolution — agreed, but the resolution failed to earn the support of either Ms. Lofstad or Ms. Scalera.
In other town news, a group of residents from Noyac and Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca called on the Southampton Town Board to consider legal action over a recent settlement made by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regarding the Sand Land mine in Noyac, owned by John Tintle of Wainscott Sand & Gravel.
The settlement will allow the mine to continue operation for eight years and excavate an additional 40 feet of sand vertically, although the mine is not allowed to grow horizontally during that period. Reclamation must occur two years after the mine closure, according to the settlement and no vegetative waste can be processed on the site. It also mandates an independent third-party monitor to oversee the mine’s operations.
Just about a year ago, local elected officials and environmental activists made public county testing results of surface waters and groundwater at Sand Land that showed the presence of the heavy metal manganese at 87 times the state threshold of 300 parts per billion, as well as elevated levels of cobalt, lead and arsenic.
“In our minds, that business seems to be rewarded with an extra eight years of more sand mining but he can also go 40 feet deeper and that annoys us,” said Noyac Civic Council member Chuck Neuman. “It is really not the right thing to do.”
Mr. DeLuca said the board should demand a public hearing by the DEC and oppose the decision with a resolution.
“Whatever the DEC did is a bad thing,” he said. “I think you guys need to act urgently.”
“I am asking you to sue the pants off the DEC,” said Elena Loreto, president of the Noyac Civic Council. “Second, Southampton Town must condemn the DEC’s recent issuance of another permit.” Ms. Loreto also called for the town to pass a resolution allowing it to conduct its own groundwater monitoring on the Sand Land site.
Board members said they were unanimous in its support of the Civic Council’s position.
“The question of suing the DEC is something we will take under advisement — it is something we are looking at,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “We certainly do and I have already publicly condemned the DEC actions and I absolutely support monitoring of groundwater, a very tough regimen and not what the DEC has required. Three wells on a 50-acre site is ridiculous.”