Tag Archive | "Amagansett"

State Denies Grant for Local Schools Looking into School District Consolidation

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Several East End schools suffered a blow last week when they learned they had not been awarded a competitive Local Government Efficiency Grant, which would have examined the possibility of consolidating and reorganizing local school districts.

Despite this setback, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle — who had written letters of support for the grant — are determined to move forward.

“Senator LaValle and I will find another way to fund this consolidation study,” said Thiele in an interview on Monday.

In a separate interview, LaValle echoed Thiele’s comments.

“I will keep at it,” he said. “I will pursue it. I will pursue some money, as I did, outside of the competitive grant process, to get the districts to talk about how they can share services or where there is interest in an out and out consolidation.”

Thiele said that he and LaValle would probably look into a legislative grant or “other forms of funding where the legislature has direct control over the funding, not funding that the Governor controls.”

The Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton, Tuckahoe, Springs, Montauk and Hampton Bays school districts, as well Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), had originally filed for the grant back in March.

The grant is part of the New York Department of State’s (DOS) Local Government Efficiency Program, which seeks to help municipalities save money and operate more efficiently through consolidations, mergers, the sharing of services and other tactics.

According to a press release from the DOS, $4 million dollars had been allocated for grant monies, and municipalities could apply for up to $200,000 in funding.

The grants, said LaValle, were “competitively scored by the Department of State, based upon the quality of the applicants’ data and endeavor.”

“From what I was told, the [local schools’] grant did not score high,” said Thiele, noting that of the 21 groups that were awarded the grant, only three were school districts.

“Assemblyman Thiele and I cannot go beyond what we did, in terms of local officials supporting their grants, because it would be unethical to use — as people would say, ‘political muscle’ — to try and affect political grants,” LaValle added.

LaValle has been a strong proponent of consolidation of South Fork school districts throughout his tenure. He said in the past, local school districts had received millions of dollars in state aid, some of which they could have used to conduct things like efficiency grant studies.

“In the past, I had secured money and they never really went forward with any consolidation — or even any efficiencies — that they could bring about by sharing services,” he said.

However, LaValle noted the decision for school consolidation is entirely up to the community.

For example, if two school districts wanted to consolidate, both school boards would have to approve of it. Then, referendums would have to be passed in both communities.

By Amanda Wyatt

Currently, the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts have recently begun discussing the possibility of consolidating their school districts.

“It’s a local decision,” the senator said. “I try to take leadership in pushing people to either do consolidation, or at the very minimum, to share services.”

The Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) also remains interested in looking into consolidation and reorganization. President Theresa Samot said the BOE would probably discuss the grant at its next meeting, which was scheduled for Monday night, but was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. That meeting has yet to be rescheduled, said Samot.

“We thought [the grant] would certainly be a good first step to see what the opportunities were,” said President Theresa Samot. “The board is certainly in favor of exploring any opportunity that might be valuable to the taxpayers, as well as the students. It’s something that we’ve certainly looked into, wherever we could collaborate to save money.”

Thiele & LaValle Create CPF Advisory Opinions Bureau

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Since its inception in 1998, the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund has raised approximately $757 million, which the five East End towns have used to preserve open space, farmland, historic buildings and places as well as recreational fields. During its tenure as a resource for preservation, the bounds of the CPF have been questioned for concepts like a 2008 proposal between East Hampton, Southampton and Sag Harbor to use CPF funds to preserve Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, which was ultimately deemed a purchase that went beyond the intentions of the law.

The revenue for the fund is derived from a two-percent real estate transfer tax. It expires on December 31, 2030.

Last week, the architects of the CPF, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and New York State Senator Ken LaValle, announced they have created a Peconic Bay Regional Community Preservation Fund Advisory Opinions Bureau in an effort to have a specific group ensure the effective and consistent administration of the fund.

The 11-member bureau will also provide legal opinions and interpretations regarding any questions that are raised about how the five East End towns — East Hampton, Sag Harbor, Southampton, Shelter Island and Riverhead — are expending their CPF monies.

A representative from each of the five towns, appointed by the town supervisor, will serve on the board as will a representative from each of the East End villages. Thiele and LaValle will also appoint five members of the public at large.

“This Advisory Bureau will institute oversight measures to help protect the integrity of the Community Preservation Fund,” said Thiele. “The Peconic Bay Region taxpayers and communities deserve to know that the Fund is being implemented appropriately and consistently throughout the region.”

“Transparency and accountability to taxpayers is essential to the fund’s continued success,” said Senator LaValle.

A Wharf Shop at the Heart of Sag Harbor

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For nearly 45 years, The Wharf Shop has stood at the heart of Sag Harbor’s Main Street. Many things have changed since Nada Barry opened the doors in 1968, but not the philosophy of the shop.

“It’s about this community,” says Barry. “As long as we can pay our staff enough to live here, and the shop can economically survive, it’s not about the bottom line. I could have rented this place to a bank and made a lot more money. It’s not about that.”

Barry, who is a member of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and helped to create the web sitewww.sagharborkids.org, believes Sag Harbor needs a place that offers kids toys that are both educational and built to last.

“We spend quite a bit of time picking out items,” she says. “A lot of teachers come in here to supplement their curriculum. We weed through masses of books. We educate people from birth to 106.”

And it isn’t just the toys and books that make up The Wharf Shop’s business. So much of what the place offers is about the identity of Sag Harbor itself, which is one reason the store gets a major bump in business over HarborFest weekend. Barry said people come there looking to capture the essence of Sag Harbor as it was, and as it is.

“We try to have a lot of seafaring and whale-inspired merchandise for people who remember Sag Harbor as a whaling village,” says Gwen Waddington, co-owner of the store and Nada’s daughter. “We have more people coming in to buy whale pocketbooks and wallets as well as cast-iron whales and whale door knockers.”

The store also carries handcrafted wooden whales, created by longtime Wharf Shop employee Dede O’Connell. They have an extensive line of wooden replicas of familiar local landmarks, done by the Cat’s Meow, an Ohio-based company.

“We have the movie theatre, The Sag Harbor Express and we just got the windmill back,” says Waddington.  “Now on the back it acknowledges that the windmill has been named for John Ward, who helped to build it. We’re waiting for the newest, which will be Marty’s barber shop as a tribute to Marty.”

Waddington notes the bump that HarborFest is expected to bring will be particularly welcome after a summer that looked busier than it was.

“There seemed to be many more people,” says Waddington, “but they weren’t necessarily spending a lot of money. As far as people’s spending habits, I think they’ve become a lot more frugal since 2008. I think in the last two years it’s hit here more than it had before.”

At a time when people are suffering financially, Barry and Waddington know it’s important for a small Main Street business to be original and reliable.

“We just try to provide the best customer service we can and keep customers coming back when there’s a need,” says Waddington, “and to provide their special requests as well… People don’t want a generic town, and they don’t want a generic shop.”

To that end, The Wharf Shop is all about attention to the customer. This comes not just from the owners, but from all the employees. And that’s important to Barry.

“Our atmosphere is very much a family,” she says. “It’s a community unto itself. Our staff is extremely supportive and they work hard serving the customers. We are there for our staff in times of trouble and in good times, and that’s a basic philosophy.”

Barry also prides herself on educating the young people of the community in a business-sense.

“We’ve trained over 100 students for their first jobs,” she says. “We give them a groundwork of how to be good workers. We have them come back — lawyers and doctors and mothers now.”

The purpose of The Wharf Shop, according to its owners, is not to take from the community, but to add to it.

“We represent the old as well as being contemporary,” says Waddington. “We come to work to contribute to the community.”

The Wharf Shop (725-0420) is at 69A Main Street, Sag Harbor.


The Culture of Generosity

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In this wealthy community of lavish parties, high profile people, over-sized houses, and over-priced almost everything else, it’s encouraging to learn about another affordable housing complex being built.

By November 2012, St. Michaels Housing complex in Amagansett, a 40 unit affordable housing project, paid for with HUD funds and property sold by Amagansett’s St. Michaels Lutheran Church (at way below market value), will be up and running.

When I passed St. Michaels church and the neighboring construction site, I noticed how practical the site was: a clinic and gym will be within walking distance; as will the grocery across the street, and the small Amagansett post office. A crosswalk, newly completed on 27, will enable the residents to get from the complex to the other side of the road without risking life and limb.

I wanted to know who qualified, how it came about, who was responsible. So I called St. Michaels pastor, Katrina Foster, who agreed to meet with me and give me the facts.

“How will I know you?” I asked when we set a date and place.

“I’ll look like a pastor” she said, but when she came in the door to the restaurant she looked only young. And happy. She and her very pretty nine-year old daughter Zoia sat down to talk with me. Her daughter immediately pulled out a book and I imagined Zoia was used to her mother giving up her time for other people.

“A single person,” Pastor Foster said, “who can make no more than $36,000, qualifies; $46,000 for a couple. They pay 30 percent of their income for the yearly rental. If they have medical expenses, the 30 percent they pay is after medical expenses are deducted. There’s a lottery of 100 people and we draw 40 people from the lottery based on, one, the homeless (and that constitutes anyone living on someone’s couch or in their car; it really MEANS homeless), two, disabled people and, three, people with the lowest income.

“The minimum age is 62,” she continued. “The 40 people can be from anywhere — from Alaska or anywhere and they don’t have to belong to our church or any church. They don’t have to meet all three criteria, but highest priority is given to homeless first, then disabled and lowest income. An able-bodied person or couple who have a home and are not disabled and who fall within the income guidelines will qualify, but priority is given to those most vulnerable. There’ll be a superintendent at the complex and we’ll also have a 3500 square foot community center for not only the residents but the whole community.”

“All of this,” she said “is for people who have given to their communities as fishermen or teachers, service people; anyone not in a position to stay because they’re unable to find affordable housing. Now St. Michaels will be able to provide such a place, as Whalebone and Windmill Villages One and Two already do.”

“Under the radar,” she said, “is a whole way of life in which people look out for other people. For people who are old, infirm, and without means. It has to do with what it means to live a religious life; it’s a culture of generosity. People donate money or their time; they volunteer to make meals. St. Michaels sold five acres of its land at way below fair market value for this project.”

She told me that Michael de Sario (president of the housing board that secured funding) and Gerry Mooney (a member of St. Michaels and manager of the other existing affordable housing complexes) kept the project going for the ten years it took. But this involved lots and lots of people who never gave up.

“None of us ever gave up and sometimes it was rough going.”

Then she asked if I knew the parable of The Insistent Widow. When it was clear I didn’t, she explained that it involved a judge and a widow in the same town.

“The widow went to the judge asking for justice and help but the judge refused her,” the pastor said. “The widow went back day after day after day. She never gave up. Finally the judge gave in. That’s what we do. We never give up. We just keep working until things get done.”

Before coming here, Pastor Foster was pastor in the Bronx for 16 years where she earned the Bronx Borough President’s Citation of Merit in 2000 and 2004, and was awarded the NAACP’s Women Who Make a Difference Award in 2001. She began serving Incarnation and St. Michaels Lutheran churches in the Hamptons Lutheran Parish on the East End in 2010 when she was told there was a spot in Amagansett where she could be useful.

“I’m here with my wife and our daughter and an array of animals,” she said.

“What do you do when you’re not serving your congregation and everyone who needs help?” I ask…. “IF and WHEN you ever have free time?”

“We go to the beach” she says. “Zoia loves the beach. All three of us, and one dog, love the beach.”

Finding the Lost Ladybugs

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By Amanda Wyatt

From the most avid nature lovers to the biggest city slickers and couch potatoes, nearly everyone likes ladybugs. But recently, a group of researchers, preservationists and local citizen-scientists have taken their appreciation for the “ladies in red” to a new level.

Led by a team from Cornell University’s Lost Ladybug Project and the Peconic Land Trust, these enthusiasts gathered at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett on July 10 to document and collect various species of ladybugs.

The project, which is based out of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science, researches and examines the changes in the ladybug population across the United States.

In particular, researchers and participants were eager to find the rare nine-spotted ladybug (coccinella novemnotata), which they collected in glass vials to take back to the Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York.

Although it’s currently difficult to find, the nine-spotted ladybug is actually the official insect of New York State.

“It was named our state insect because it was once so common and considered so important for agriculture,” said Dr. John Losey, a Cornell professor and the director of the Lost Ladybug Project. “The problem is, by the time it was named, it had already started to decline.”

In fact, New York State went 29 years without seeing a nine-spotted ladybug, and researchers believed it to be locally extinct. But while organizing a search for native ladybugs at Quail Hill in 2011, Peter Priolo struck gold — or red.

“I wasn’t looking for the nine-spotted,” Priolo said. “I was, of course, hoping we’d find one, but I just wanted to find native ladybugs. I knew [Quail Hill] would be a hotspot for biodiversity because it’s an organic farm and their planting methods are very diverse.”

Priolo, who had previously interned with the Peconic Land Trust, was already familiar with the Lost Ladybug Project. He took a photo of a ladybug he found in 2011 and sent it to Dr. Losey, who confirmed that it was a nine-spotted. Soon, he learned that his discovery marked not only the first sighting in decades of the nine-spotted ladybug in New York, but one of the first in the entire Eastern U.S.

A science enthusiast since childhood, Priolo was excited to be involved in the project.

“I just do this for fun, and to fulfill that young science boy inside of me,” he said.

There are over 5,000 species of ladybugs across the globe, roughly 500 of which are indigenous to North America. However, the diversity within the ladybug population has greatly decreased over recent decades, and a number of species have become endangered.

“What we’re going from is a really diverse group of native ladybugs to a much less diverse group of foreign ladybugs, dominated by the seven-spot and the Asian, multicolored one,” said Dr. Losey. “We want to know what happened to the nine-spot and if we can turn that around. We fear that if we get totally dominated by just a few kinds, the ladybugs might not be able to do their job as well for us as they have in the past.”

Priolo, who has his bachelor’s degree in ecology, agreed that maintaining a wide variety of ladybugs was crucial. “The more biodiversity there is, the healthier it is,” he explained.

According to Dr. Leslie Allee, an entomologist at Cornell, ladybugs are one of nature’s best pesticides. Ladybugs prey on soft-bodied pests like aphids, who otherwise suck the sap out of leaves—essentially destroying farm plants and orchard trees. They also eat the eggs of scales, including mealy-bugs, and various other pests.

“The bottom line is that ladybugs help us grow food with fewer pesticides,” Dr. Allee said. “So ladybugs directly impact the amount of pesticides that are needed on many crops that we eat.”

She continued, saying that anyone “who’s concerned about getting wholesome, clean food with as few pesticides as possible should also be concerned about the fate of ladybugs. If we didn’t have ladybugs, we’d have to use many more pesticides and organic agriculture would really be in danger.”

“Every ladybug does its job a little bit differently in terms of eating pests,” Dr. Losey added. “So what works best for pest suppression is to have lots of different kinds all doing their thing in different ways.”

The Lost Ladybug Project, which was founded by Dr. Losey in the early 2000s, was originally intended to be a small-scale, local initiative. But after receiving funding from the National Science Foundation, they were able to expand their efforts. This led to media coverage, and the project quickly took off from there.

“We had thought we were just going to work in New York, as well as with some collaborators in South Dakota, and build it slowly,” Dr. Allee recalls. “But we got so much press that people from all over the country became interested, so we had to really scurry and grow the project quickly.”

In fact, citizen-scientists from all 50 states, as well as several Canadian provinces and Mexican states, have submitted their own photos and other research to the project.

According to Kathleen Kennedy, outreach manager for the Peconic Land Trust, researchers from the Lost Ladybug Project will be back at Quail Hill in a few weeks. Their next visit is scheduled for July 31, 2012.

Kennedy hopes that that the project will keep gaining momentum. “I think it would be great to do this as an annual event,” she said, adding: “Hopefully, we’ll have more and more people aware, and more and more ladybug colonies.”

Photography by Michael Heller


East End Baymen Call for Fishermens’ Bill of Rights; Consider Lawsuit

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Paul Lester and Daniel Rodgers

Standing in a Riverhead law office on Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen of East End fishermen signed a Fisherman’s Bill of Rights. It was the latest move in a months long effort by a group of East Hampton baymen to protect their industry against what they say are unreasonable practices by the state that take away their basic rights under the Constitution.

Daniel Rodgers, a Riverhead attorney who has taken up the East End fisherman’s battle against the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), said he plans to forward the Fisherman’s Bill of Rights to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Secretary of State.

This comes after Rodgers formally filed an ethics complaint against the DEC related to the sale of fishermen’s catch after DEC officers seized the fish.

Nassau County attorney Harry H. Kutner, Jr. also announced this week that the group is considering a federal civil rights class action lawsuit against the DEC for allegedly violating fishermen’s rights on the East End.

Rodgers has been working with baymen like the Lester family, current East Hampton Town Trustee Nat Miller and former trustee and veteran baymen Stuart Vorpahl since he took on a DEC case against the Lesters last summer. Paul and Kelly Lester were accused of violating the state’s Conservation Law after a raid of their Amagansett home and were ultimately acquitted. However, for Rodgers it opened his eyes to what he views as state law that allows DEC officers to deprive fishermen of their basic rights under the Constitution. Specifically, it allows that fishermen’s homes and boats can be searched without a warrant and fish seized and sold by DEC officers before they have been deemed guilty or innocent of any crime.

“Because it is the law of the land in the State of New York that fishermen and women as a class be treated differently than ordinary citizens of this State, we have created a Fishermen’s Bill of Rights as an Amendment to the Constitution of the State of New York,” said Rodgers in a statement on Tuesday.

Under the Fishermen’s Bill of Rights, all fishermen would be protected against warrantless searches and seizures unless an officer has probable cause. Fishermen cannot be deprived of property without due process, under the bill of rights and if they are they must be compensated. The bill of rights also aims to give fishermen equal protection under the law and protects them from excessive penalties.

Lastly, the bill of rights states that “No fisherman shall be subject to any moratorium” that deprives them of the right to work unless it is backed up by actual legislation by the state. Currently, the DEC has moratoriums against issuing fluke and striped bass permits to fisherman.

“The DEC moratoriums effectively close down fisheries,” said Rodgers on Tuesday. “It deprives fisherman the ability to make a living. Moratoriums are designed to be temporary but these have been in place for years.”

These issues, said Rodgers, will also be addressed if and when a lawsuit is filed on behalf of the fishermen against the DEC, which could happen as early as August, he said.

Tables Turn Again For Vinyl

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Craig Wright

By Claire Walla

A record store? On the East End?

It started with the Japanese.

Record collector and East Hampton native Craig Wright had been running a successful music business on eBay for five years, regularly sending used records to buyers both locally and internationally. But, last year he suddenly began receiving visits from music store owners on record-buying missions from half-way around the world.

“I had at least six or seven guys from Japan looking through my storage facility over the last year,” Wright exclaimed. “And I thought, this isn’t the way to do it. I’ve gotta make this available to everyone.”

The result is Inner Sleeve Music, a full-blown record store in the heart of Amagansett, which sells everything from rock and jazz (which happens to be the favored genre among Japanese buyers), to new releases, reggae and even spoken word.

Wright said his original intent was to set up shop here in Sag Harbor, which he had targeted for its thriving nightlife. But, after 10 years of eying spaces that never seemed to fit the bill, he settled on Amagansett.

But he has no complaints. Within walking distance to Crossroads Music and Stephen Talkhouse, Inner Sleeve has completed a veritable music trinity on Amagansett’s Main Street.

Since the store opened last month, Wright said sales have been pretty steady.

“I’ve been selling a bit of everything,” he noted. “I’ve had country sales… even classical sales, which really surprised me.”

Perhaps unsurprising, however, is that Wright’s biggest request thus far has been for The Beatles. (He has to re-stock Beatles and Rolling Stones sections on a regular basis.)

While Wright said his store certainly caters to music aficionados — he also sells rare items and collectibles — his customer-base runs the gamut.

Shoppers have been old and young, music snobs and vinyl newbies. It’s really unpredictable.

“I’ve been surprised at some of the things I’ve sold this week,” Wright said. “Like Hall and Oates. Five years ago you couldn’t give away LPs of Hall and Oates! The whole record-buying phenomenon has changed the way some people look at some of those guilty pleasures.”

Customers have even come in exclusively for album art.

“Just last week a guy came in an bought several AC/DC albums to frame and put up in his office,” Wright said. He added that once a customer came to him for images to put up on his bathroom walls. “He wanted any albums with a Hawaiian or beach theme,” Wright recalled.

What’s been most common thus far, however, are those who come in for the nostalgia.

On a recent afternoon, a woman and her mother stepped into the store with one thing on their minds: “I want a record player!” the younger woman pleaded to Wright, who calmly assured her they would be in-stock soon.

When asked why she was so adamant about the dated device, she said her attraction was simple.

“I grew up with record players,” she explained.

“And now that he’s here,” she continued, motioning to Wright, “and she got me crazy over them,” she added, motioning to her mother, “it’s nice that they’re coming back. They’re just so much fun!”

Her mother went on to explain the thrill of the tactile listening process, which Wright punctuated later on.

“You realize that the experience is about being involved in your music,” Wright explained. “I mean, you’re forced to hold the record, you have to flip it half-way through, you’re moving the arm and the needle on top of it…. You’re part of the process.

“When you’re listening to an MP3,” he added with a hint of disdain, “you’re usually doing something else — it’s just background music.”

Of course, even for Wright, it wasn’t always this way.

There was a time when the avid record collector, who held his first job at Long Island Sound on Main Street in East Hampton, actually gathered his entire record collection — which at the time was heavily bent toward artists with big hair: KISS, Quiet Riot, Def Leopard — and chucked it at the East Hampton dump.

(Strictly for reasons of taste, Wright said he said he doesn’t regret that decision.)

It’s the same familiar story of new technology trumping old ways of being.

Back in the ‘80s, the art of the mix tape was gaining prominence, and with double tape decks so easily accessible, LPs were seen as cumbersome and unnecessary.

It took relocating to California to get Wright back on track.

“I was in my early 20s at the time, and this guy in his mid-40s kept telling me: Records! Records!” Wright recalled. “He was the guy who was saying what everyone’s saying now, that the sound quality of a record is just better because that’s the way these recordings were meant to be heard.”

“A CD is just ones and zeros and a laser reading that back and translating it into music.”

Twenty years and one record-toting cross-country trip later, and Wright is still strictly vinyl.

To build his stockpile — which is well over 10,000 records, not including Wright’s personal collection, which at this point is a few thousand — Wright goes to yard sales and estate sales, buying masses of old LPs the way an antique book dealer scours homes for old books.

Sometimes he finds a rare collector’s item, but that goes right in the store with hula-themed album art and Hall and Oates.

“As a collector, I used to always be frustrated by walking into a record store and feeling like I was only getting access to the B- and C-level stuff,” Wright said. “Sometimes you just get that feeling, that the primo stuff is being held somewhere in a back room, waiting to be sold on eBay, and the person walking through the front door has no access to that.”

This goes back to the driving force behind Wright’s brick and mortar shop.

“I don’t want any collector to feel like he or she doesn’t have access to a premium piece,” he said.

Collectibles may be displayed, like artwork, on the walls of the building, but Wright said it’s never off-limits.

“Everything in the store should be available to everyone who walks in the door.”

Wright said the taste for records on the East End still remains to be seen. (He’s waiting for the height of the summer season to figure that one out.) But he remains positive, adding that the store may shift to accommodate the community, depending on what people long to buy.

“There’s certainly nowhere else on the East End to get this stuff. As a collector, I would drive two hours to find a good record store, one I hadn’t been to before,” he said.

And with a grin, he added, “The people who want it will find me.”

East Hampton Fisherman Continue Quest to End Warrantless Search & Seizures by the DEC

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Following a request last month by a group of East Hampton baymen, acting New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott has begun investigating what some fishermen view as the illegal seizure of fish and shellfish by officers of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

However, the baymen’s attorney, Daniel G. Rodgers of Riverhead, said he has also asked the Inspector General’s office to investigate whether officers confiscating fish and shellfish related to cases and selling it, rather than finding a way to save it for trial, actually flies in the face of the agencies own laws.

On Monday, Rodgers — surrounded by the Lester family and fisherman Larry Keller — said he and his clients had met with investigators in the Inspector General’s office last Friday.

Rodgers’ clients have asked the state to investigate warrant-less searches and subsequent seizures of fish and shellfish by DEC officers who believe a fisherman has violated fishery law. It’s a decades-long practice they contend violates their Constitutional rights. In light of the fact that much of the seafood confiscated is sold by DEC officers to local fish markets or simply dumped off a vessel, Rodgers has also asked for a forensic audit of the proceeds of those sales. He’s also asked for the overall lose in revenue for local fisherman, particularly since some of the DEC’s cases against these individuals are later overturned.

Rodgers said because the seizures happen before any trial, and property is not returned or restitution provided to fishermen found innocent of Conservation Law violations, a full forensic inquiry by the state was necessary to restore public faith.

He has found support from local government leaders, including New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., and State Senators Ken LaValle and Lee Zeldin, who have drafted legislation that would eliminate the DEC’s ability to seize fish or equipment from fishermen without a warrant.

“The Investigator General’s Office is taking this very seriously,” said Rodgers. “And we are grateful for that.”

Rodgers said the DEC’s explanation for why they should be able to search property such as backyards, trucks and boats (though not inside  baymen’s homes, which are protected),  is because fish should be considered “mobile,” as in something that can get away and therefore enforcement rules need to be relaxed so DEC officers can do their jobs.

“Well, we call that Constitutional relaxation,” said Rodgers. “And everyone knows there is no such thing as Constitutional relaxation. It is a fixed document. You cannot relax the rules from one individual to another.”

Worse, said Rodgers, is he believes it is possible DEC officers are breaking their own laws by seizing fish and selling it rather than retaining it for trial.

“While DEC officials continually point to rules to search and seize properties, seemingly they do not follow the rules that require them to follow some minimal role in Constitutional restraint,” said Rodgers.

Rodgers cited New York State environmental law that specifically deals with the powers and duties of enforcement officers — the very section that gives officers the explicit authority to seize fish, shellfish, game or plumage without a warrant. In that section of law, Rodgers said it demands that if officers seize fish or shellfish without a warrant they must retain custody of that property until the determination of any prosecution in which it is being held for evidence.

“DEC officers have been violating their own rules by illegally converting that property of fisherman and paying [the department] with the proceeds,” said Rodgers. “Fisherman are getting ripped off, possibly in the many thousands of dollars.”

Rodgers said he immediately brought this to the attention of the Inspector General, and hopes it will be added to the overall investigation into the DEC’s regulation of East Hampton baymen.

“Part of the argument is, what is the alternative,” noted Rodgers. “If any officer attempts to confiscate fish, shellfish, lobsters or any other food fish how will they keep it for trial? Well, frankly, that is not my problem. If you are going to confiscate someone’s fish as evidence for trial in a criminal case, the law says you must keep it safe until a determination is made by court. That is called due process.”

Many baymen and fisherman, added Rodgers, have had to watch for years as their livelihood was seized, knowing it would be sold or thrown back into the water before their guilt was ever determined.

Two of Rodgers’ many clients, siblings Paul and Kelly Lester, had a case against them dismissed last summer by East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana. They were charged with possession of untagged fluke, for having fluke over the daily catch limit and for not having a permit to sell shellfish from a roadside stand in front of their Amagansett homes.

According to Rodgers, in that case the DEC came onto the Lester’s property without a warrant and seized the fish, selling it to a nearby fish market.

Despite attempts, no restitution for the $200 in fish has been offered by the DEC.

“A drunk driver has a vehicle seized if he has more than one conviction in New York State,” said Rodgers, a criminal defense attorney by trade. “A drunk driver has more due process rights in getting a vehicle back than a fisherman in trying to get back the fish they worked hard all day to catch.”

“That is how crazy this system is,” he added. “A drunk driver has more due process rights. They are entitled to a hearing, they are entitled to notice, they are entitled to a lawyer and are actually heard on whether or not their vehicle should be taken from them. The fishermen get squat, they get nothing and I think that is part of the inherent unfairness of this system.”

Image: Riverhead attorney Daniel Rodgers with a group of East Hampton baymen and fishermen on Monday evening. Rodgers is helping the group fight for the end of what they call illegal searches and seizures of their fish and shellfish.

Attorney Hopes to Preserve Baymen’s Way of Life

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William Lester was born in 1900 and as soon as he was old enough to walk he was fishing. A bayman like his father before him, William passed the skill and tradition to his own son, who in turn shared it with his children, Daniel and Paul, brothers who now work nets in Accabonac Harbor just as their forefathers.

“As soon as my mother let me, I went fishing,” said Daniel Lester in an interview this week. “Once you do it, that is it — you are done, you are hooked. I had other jobs in my life, I have done other things, but this is it for me.”

Despite a general trend towards all things local, the life of a bayman on the East End has only gotten harder over the last two decades. Now a group of baymen are trying to build momentum to ensure a historic tradition on the East End is not lost.

And they’re armed with an attorney,

According to Lester there is an entire generation of baymen who feel so restricted by state and federal guidelines they are questioning whether this will remain a viable way of life, or if like many historic traditions it will be lost to future generations.

“We are not out to break the law,” said Daniel. “We just want to make a day’s pay and a nice living. Some of the regulations we are dealing with are out of control.”

Following a court case involving Daniel’s siblings, Paul and Kelly, who faced charges they violated the state’s Conservation Law, a group of a dozen baymen in East Hampton and Riverhead attorney Daniel Rodgers have revived a decades long battle to protect the rights of the baymen.

The pair were exonerated this past fall, but last week, in the hopes of increasing support behind the rights of the baymen, Rodgers filed a request with the Preservation League of New York State (PLNYS). He is asking the league to consider adding Long Island “baymen” to its list of historic and cultural resources in need of protection.

“Baymen are increasingly under pressure from burdensome state and federal regulations,” said Rodgers in his letter to the preservation league. “Many, particularly younger fishermen, are choosing to leave their livelihood, never to return. The unique skills of baymen are passed down from one generation to the next, in some instances over hundreds of years. They will never be replaced.”

Rodgers cited a recent decision in Maryland as a basis for his decision to reach out to the preservation league.

According to The Chesapeake Bay Journal, Preservation Maryland has placed the Maryland waterman on their 2012 Endangered Maryland list in the hopes of furthering discussion in the state about the cultural importance of the waterman.

It was veteran bayman Stuart Vorpahl who discovered the news item and encouraged Rodgers to seek the same path in New York.

On Tuesday, regional director of technical grant programs for PLNYS Erin Tobin said while the group would be interested in entertaining the concept at the end of 2013, for the 2013 and 2014 years the organization has already selected its Seven to Save for this year.

“The protection of a way of life is not something that is directly within our mission statement,” said Tobin, noting it was often historic landscapes or buildings the group focused its efforts on.

However, she said she was happy to have connected with Rodgers and added the league would look into the request in more depth come 2013.

“This is just the beginning of the conversation,” said Rodgers. “Time is on our side and we are willing to fight for this however long it takes. This is a culture that needs to be preserved.”

Rodgers said he would be reaching out to cultural and historic organizations throughout Long Island in coming weeks for support.

Farmers and Foodies Talk with Senator

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A group of farmers and foodies gathered in a barn at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett on Sunday and listened as New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand talked about the importance of small farms that supply Long Islanders with fresh food. The senator believes agriculture could be key in rebuilding the economy while also addressing issues like nutrition, obesity and keeping the nation’s food supply safe from contamination. So significant is agriculture and food production, she said, that the Senator believes it should be considered a national security issue.

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The event – organized by Edible Manhattan publisher and Edible East End editor Brian Halweil, Quail Hill Director and Farmer Scott Chaskey, Bonnie and Steve Munshin and Leigh Merinoff – was part of an effort by Senator Gillibrand to conduct “listening sessions” throughout the state with local farmers.

The senator’s tour comes as Congress prepares to debate the next Farm Bill renewal in 2012.

Gillibrand is the first New York Senator to sit on the Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. New York boasts over 35,000 farms on over 7.1 million acres, a fourth of the state’s land. The industry generates about $4.5 billion for New York’s economy.

In an interview following the event, Senator Gillibrand talked about why she believes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which takes place at Quail Hill and at neighboring farms like Balsam Farm in Amagansett and Sunset Beach Farm in North Haven, are an economic benefit for both the farmers and the communities they serve.

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Senator Gillibrand announced a bill this June within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that seeks to promote CSA, which are designed so members can pay for a weekly share of the farm’s produce, either picking up a box with their yield for the week, or actually harvesting vegetables from the ground, as is done at Quail Hill.

There are more than 12,000 CSA farms operating throughout the country, with 350 in New York State. Senator Gillibrand’s Community Supported Agriculture Promotion Act’s competitive grant program would award federal funds to non-profit organizations, extension services and local and state governments to provide support for growers. That would range from marketing and business assistance to crop development and the development of innovative delivery and distribution programs to encourage growth and save costs.

Preference will be given to projects working with family farms, farms operated by or employing veterans — a particular passion of the junior senator — and those that reach out into “food deserts,” which are low income communities without access to fresh foods.

A resident of upstate New York, near Albany, Senator Gillibrand said that while her grandmother was certainly a grower, raising corn, zucchini, raspberries and other crops, her passion for CSA came after she learned more about agricultural issues. She learned first hand the influence farming has on local economies, providing employment as the country continues to struggle with joblessness. She also sees agriculture as an educational tool to combat health care issues like childhood obesity.

Supporting stateside agriculture is not only crucial to the economy, the senator said, adding that it is also a national security issue, pointing to the tainted milk scandal in China in 2010, among others. The senator said one of her focuses on the agricultural committee is drafting and supporting legislation that will allow the industry to grow, and create more jobs, as well as healthy food for the dinner table.

“We don’t want to lose New York as a food producer,” said Senator Gillibrand, adding that supporting small farms and the ability for them to branch out and sell specialty food items, which is an economic driver in the agriculture industry, is critical. She would like to see a stronger Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program to help farmers branch out into the production of jams or cheese for market sale.

She noted New York can proudly call itself “the center of Greek yogurt in the country.” Chobani, a Greek yogurt crafted in Central, New York, has become a nationwide staple for many, as Greek yogurt gained in popularity over the last five years.

Senator Gillibrand said she would like to work on behalf of Long Island farmers and those in the Hudson River Valley to seek some of the $1 billion in economic aid up for grabs in a regional competition created by Governor Andrew Cuomo to promote job growth throughout the state.

“I have talked to as many farmers as will listen to me,” said Senator Gillibrand. “They are great stewards of our state.”

Senator Gillibrand said the small, family farms are not only economic drivers in New York, but also bring in tourism dollars, drawing visitors interested in wine or cheese trails as a new kind of culinary vacation.

“That is very valuable on Long Island,” she said. “And very valuable in the Finger Lakes.”

Agriculture also has the ability to teach our children where their food comes from, added Senator Gillibrand, an increasingly more critical kind of education as childhood obesity rates continue to skyrocket.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 17 percent — or 12.5 million — children ages two to 19 are obese. In New York State, 10 to 15 percent of children are obese.

“Our children just don’t understand where their food comes from,” she said.

A member of the Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives, Senator Gillibrand also sees the ability to create jobs in agriculture for veterans, who like many are facing high unemployment rates among their ranks. Working in agriculture would provide an opportunity to learn about nutrition, but also about small business, she said. Senator Gillibrand also added the act of farming can aid post -traumatic stress disorder.

Senator Gillibrand also enjoyed the sweeter side of agriculture on Sunday, tucking into two servings of local berry cobbler while talking to Chatsky, other farmers, chefs and writers.

“I like raspberry,” she said.