By Gianna Volpe
Last Saturday afternoon, The Group for Good Government held an East Hampton town board candidate’s debate in the Cedar Street Emergency Services building. Among the participants was Democratic and Independence party candidate Larry Cantwell, who retired from his position as East Hampton Village administrator and at this moment, is running unopposed in November’s town supervisor’s race.
Republican Dominick Stanzione — the only incumbent — is seeking re-election to one of two town board seats up for grabs next month. He is running with current East Hampton Town Clerk Fred Overton, who is retiring this year. Both candidates also have the support of the Independence Party. They will be facing Democrats and Working Families candidates Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Job Potter, a former town council member seeking to rejoin the board this January.
Topics of discussion ranged from deer management to drinking water, as well as airport noise, affordable housing, the two percent tax cap and the need to update East Hampton’s antiquated telecommunications systems.
“I think the town actually has an RFP out for that,” Burke-Gonzalez said of current efforts to improve local cell service. “I know in Springs we had to get a booster for our house because we’d…have to stand outside when there were no leaves on the trees because if there were leaves on the trees, we won’t get cell service. And you laugh, but it’s deadly serious. You hear stories — like the woman in Montauk trying to make a 911 call, which is then routed to Connecticut. You don’t want an ambulance showing up in Connecticut when someone needed care immediately.” Overton alluded to former town plans to erect a cell tower, which Cantwell said eventually failed because the town had problems identifying potential sites that were acceptable to the community.
“I remember the project,” said Potter. “There were proposals to build very large towers on Three Mile Harbor around Harbor Marina, but the community didn’t want it.”
And though the community may again balk at suggested sits for a future cell tower, Stanzione stressed the importance of upgrading the system.
“It’s economically vital, educationally important and absolutely necessary for people to be able to communicate in an emergency situation,” said Stanzione. “We have an antiquated cell tower. It needs to be tossed out and modernized.”
He added required participation by Verizon and other cell service providers will only further complicate a subject that’s been complicated enough in East Hampton and a topic to be rivaled only by aviation.
The East Hampton Airport took the focus of one question during Saturday’s debate which asked whether the candidates supported accepting Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funds, which some fear could prevent the town from imposing restrictions that may ultimately quiet the town skies.
Stanzione stood alone as the only candidate in favor of accepting federal funds to make necessary safety improvements, as well as help balance the budget.
“If we’re not going to accept F.A.A. funding, then we’re going to have $10 million in borrowing to do,” he said, adding he also supports “working hard” to find federal funds to help subsidize projects aimed to reverse erosion damage to Montauk during Super Storm Sandy.
“If we’re not going to work hard to get this federal funding for Montauk we’ll lose out on $40 million there and we’ll have to borrow money to do that. We’re going to have to start making some fiscally responsible choices about how to capitalize our community.”
Burke-Gonzalez said she is not in favor of taking federal funds from the FAA until the completion of a study looking into the effects of increased noise on the community. “Let grant assurances run out at the end of 2014,” she suggested. “And they will.”
Cantwell noted any restrictions proposed by the board must meet federal laws for operating an airport.
“Restrictions must meet a legal standard,” he said. “They must be reasonable, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory.”
Through studies looking into the airport’s noise pollution and its growing impact on quality of life issues in East Hampton, Cantwell said the town board may be able to develop a fact base to support these claims and enable noise restrictions, like curfews, which could be enacted in the future.
Potter, Burke-Gonzalez and Overton said they supported delaying a decision to accept federal funding until results of such studies are completed.
On the topic of jumpstarting deer management efforts, candidate Potter said he would look at the topic from a scientific point of view.
“…For the same reasons I believe humans have an obligation to protect endangered species, unfortunately, I think we also have an obligation to deal with an overpopulation,” Potter said, adding the issue of too many deer was one ultimately caused by human eradication of predators from the area.
Stanzione said he takes pride in the fact that he authored the town’s current deer management plan, which he said was the first of its kind in New York State.
“It called for culling and it called for the increased use of non-lethal methodologies over the herd once we gained control,” he said. “That plan is in the midst of being implemented…and it received unanimous board approval, so I take great pride in taking the initiative.”
Candidate Overton said he was in agreement with culling the herd in East Hampton, where he said 500 animals scraped off roadsides five years ago is now closer to 1,000 animals per year. Overton said he agreed with Cantwell that deer are not only an issue in terms of accidents, but also can pose a public health issue with the increase of tick borne illnesses, and an environmental issue in terms of the health of surrounding forests suffering from the over-browsing of its under story.
Because those ticks that carry Lyme disease clamber onto critters of all shapes and sizes, Burke-Gonzalez said she hopes to focus less on eliminating deer and more on the development of a Lyme disease task force.
“Deer are definitely an issue in this community,” she said. “…Health and safety, vehicular accidents that occur, property damage…and also damage to our vistas…but I do also have to tease out that it’s not going to be the answer to the proliferation of Lyme Disease in this community. If we do cull the deer, we’re still going to have Lyme here — the [ticks] are going to find another host, so I think we should go along parallel tracks… I know there’s been a request for a task force or committee to study Lyme Disease and I hope we go forward with that.”