The East Hampton Town Board failed to come to agreement Thursday night over whether to pass a resolution to join an inter-municipal agreement to fund the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee after an argument broke out between board members about how the item had made its way onto the evening’s agenda.
According to the resolution – sponsored by Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc Thursday night – the agreement would be between Suffolk County, Brookhaven, Riverhead, Shelter Island, Southampton and Southold, as well as the villages of Dering Harbor, Greenport, North Haven and Sag Harbor and the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT). Recognizing “the importance of the Peconic Estuary as a vital coastal ecosystem essential to the environmental and economic well-being of the people in the areas surrounding the Peconic Estuary, ” according to the resolution, and understanding the Peconic Estuary Protection Committee has developed a comprehensive conservation and management plan creating long range goals and plans for the use and improvement of the estuary, the resolution calls for annual contributions by involved municipalities.
That funding would be specifically earmarked towards “improving water quality of the Peconic Estuary, restoring and enhancing the surrounding tidal wetlands, controlling and reducing pollution, achieving compliance with federal and state regulations which affect the Peconic Estuary and coordinating local coastal regulations to maximize the protection and improvement of that body of water,” according to the resolution.
The goal, said Van Scoyoc on Tuesday, would be to fund this committee and allow municipalities to work together on the issue, saving personnel, time and money, while also allowing for a comprehensive strategy to deal with growing water quality issues in the estuary. It would also help municipalities coordinate efforts to meet New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Stormwater Management requirements.
Ultimately, it would enable the towns’ and villages to work collectively to obtain grant funding. Dues would be required and could be anywhere from $7,500 to $10,000.
On Tuesday night, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said the village was reviewing information about the cost of joining the agreement, but was hopeful Sag Harbor would get involved.
“This is something we would definitely want to support,” he said, although no formal village resolution has been passed.
After a roughly 20-minute argument between members of the town board Thursday night, the measure failed to gain approval with Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Silvia Overby voting in favor of the approval and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Supervisor Bill Wilkinson voting against the approval. While repeatedly stating he will vote in support of this resolution, Councilman Dominick Stanzione abstained from voting in an effort to give Quigley time to research the resolution – one of the cruxes of Thursday night’s squabble.
As the resolution came to the floor, Quigley sharply questioned town clerk Carole Brennan on why the resolution – which comes from the Natural Resources Department she is liaison to – was listed under Van Scoyoc as a sponsor and why it was on the agenda at all.
Quigley said she had several questions about the resolution and had requested it be struck from the evening’s business.
“I don’t understand how it gets put back on,” said Quigley, adding she felt this particular issue was one that had not been discussed by the town board or properly vetted.
Van Scoyoc countered the resolution was discussed in previous work sessions.
“As I understand it Theresa thinks because she is the liaison she can prevent a resolution from coming to the floor to be voted on if she disagrees with it or needs more information,” he said, going on to describe what the resolution would accomplish and that particularly the town could stand to benefit from larger grants through this agreement. When it was reviewed to initially be slated for the agenda, said Van Scoyoc, all four present members of the board, sans Quigley, mentioned no objections.
That Quigley is the natural resources liaison, he added, should not prevent another board member from bringing forth a resolution – even if it is from that liaison’s department.
“A single councilperson should not be a gatekeeper for doing the town’s business,” said Van Scoyoc.
Supervisor Wilkinson said he would like to see consistency on the board and allow the liaison of a department to be the one to present resolutions that impact that department. If there is a question, he said the issue should be discussed during a work session. He added Councilwoman Overby asked for the same accommodation recently.
An argument quickly brewed between Quigley and Van Scoyoc, leading to the Councilman stating this is a resolution that has been before the board for months and that he finds it impossible to get items listed on the town board’s agenda.
“I have the floor, I have the floor, I have the floor,” said Quigley as several members spoke at once.
Quigely said she believed the item had never been discussed publicly in detail and that Natural Resources Director Kim Shaw had yet to give a presentation on the committee.
“This is an important issue and for all I know I will be the cheerleader for it,” said Quigley. “As the natural resources liaison this is an issue I am suppose to be familiar with. I should be familiar with it. I know nothing about it. It’s my right and the public’s right to understand exactly what it going on.”
Councilman Stanzione said while he has every intention of supporting this resolution, he would feel comfortable granting Quigley the time to become familiar with the issue.
“For all I know I have every intention of supporting it,” said Quigley. “The issue here is the absolute anarchy.”
Van Scoyoc countered this has been publicly discussed, referencing a work session in Montauk. Quigley countered there had been “secret meetings.”
Overby was reluctant not to vote on the issue noting the committee would be seeking grants through this inter-municipal agreement.
Brought to a head, Quigley and Wilkinson voted against the resolution, despite Van Scoyoc repeatedly stating the issue had been before the board, and at length.
“I am not going to oppose it, but I will abstain,” said Stanzione, noting he believes the resolution would be carried out expeditiously in near future.
“We certainly haven’t been acting expeditiously,” replied Van Scoyoc. “It has been sitting out there since March.”
Actually, it has been sitting out there since February. According to Van Scoyoc, the board first had the issue on the agenda on February 12, with a follow up conversation neither he nor Quigley was present for on February 19, following by a discussion on May 14.
Van Scoyoc said he expects the issue will be back on the agenda – sponsored by him – during the August 1 meeting.