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Jeremy Samuelson

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By Mara Certic

Jeremy Samuelson is the executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, a grassroots environmental organization. Here he discusses issues that will come up in an upcoming panel discussion CCOM is hosting on Saturday, September 20, about sustainable fisheries.

Why is CCOM concerned about sustainable fisheries?

For the last couple of years CCOM has been working on sustainable fisheries issues to try to find a way to move past some of the old conversations that don’t really seem to define where we need to go with striking a balance between fishing families making a living wage and a need to ensure the fisheries resource is sustainable. The old conversations didn’t serve the need going forward in identifying solutions. So we’ve partnered with Dock to Dish, members of the fishing community, fisheries scientists, the slow food movement, to try to find a way to have a new conversation that focuses on solutions.

As you said, CCOM has partnered with Dock to Dish. Do you think it’s better to get your fish from a CSF than from a local fishmonger?

The real change we are hoping to see is customers knowing where their fish is coming from, and getting it as directly as possible. That can be a model that is supported through any distribution network. You don’t have to be a member of a CSF to engage around sustainable fisheries issues. It’s just one model. So really what we’re hoping here is that no matter how somebody gets their seafood, whether that’s in a shop or a restaurant or from a wholesaler, we all are asking the same questions. What is my fish, where did it come from, was it caught sustainably, am I a part of the solution, or am I a part of the old business? If we are successful in our work, in a few years’ time, customers will always be asking themselves what is my fish, where did it come from, did the fishing family that landed this fish get paid a fair price? If people are asking those questions going forward then this movement will start to take hold, and we will see some changes in the industry that will benefit all of us.

There are many who say current landing regulations are outdated and must be revisited, where do you stand on that?

It’s true that the United States has the most regulated fishery in the world, but regulation is not the same thing as effective management. We need to collectively determine what are the best management strategies that allow fishing families to stay in business while we make sure we have robust fish stocks. There’s a balance that’s needed here and until we strike that balance it won’t be possible for us to have fish in the sea and for fishing families to make money. And if either one of those things fail, we’ve all failed.

What are some of the things you are looking forward to about Saturday’s panel discussion?

I think it’s going to be very interesting to see if we can all focus on the road ahead. The assumption for the last couple of decades has been that conservationists, scientists, fisheries, producers, regulators can’t have a unified approach to managing fisheries. I believe firmly that if we’re going to have honest science-based conversations that account for human need and strike that balance we’re seeing, there’s a way forward. And I’m really hoping that Saturday focuses on identifying and fleshing out what that way forward looks like.

“American Catch: Sustainable Fisheries, Getting it Right” is a series of panel discussions moderated by bestselling author Paul Greenberg. The free event will feature conversations on sustainable shellfish, sustainable seafood in the restaurant industry and creating sustainable fisheries. The event, which will be held at the Coast Restaurant, 41 South Euclid Street in Montauk, will also feature sustainably caught seafood prepared by the restaurant and a cash bar. Reservations are required. To make a reservation e-mail Deborah Klughers at dklughers@preservemontauk.org.

CAC Wants Voice at Planning Board

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Despite a stagnant economy, commercial and residential development in Southampton appears to continue. Oftentimes, the Southampton Town Planning Board’s agenda is filled with a sizable number of projects varying in size and scope. But recent projects like Trumpets Catering Hall in Eastport, Woodfield Gables in Speonk and Water Mill Station — a 20,000 plus square foot office and retail complex approved by the planning board just this week — has brought to light a problem that Jeremy Samuelson of Group for the East End says has been simmering for years. According to Samuelson, the public can comment on the possible environmental impacts of an application only after the board has already decided whether or not to make the applicant undergo a New York State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR).

“The piece that is missing is public input. It is set-up to exclude the public because a critical decision is being made before the public ever has the chance to testify against the application,” exclaimed Samuelson at a Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Friday, May 15. “That is part of our outrage.”

Southampton councilwoman Sally Pope was in attendance at the meeting. She believes the planning board can be reluctant to go back and alter their decision once they have given a project a negative declaration, meaning the project doesn’t require a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

“I think their concerns are valid,” said planning board chair Dennis Finnerty referring to comments made by Samuelson and members of the Sag Harbor CAC. Finnerty noted, though, there are two types of projects the planning board analyzes: residential subdivisions and commercial site plans. The board holds a pre-application hearing on residential subdivisions, where the public can air any concerns they have with the project. For commercial site plans, however, there isn’t a pre-application hearing and the public comments on the project after the board has made a SEQR determination.

“We are trying to get the town board to amend the code to provide for some sort of public input prior to a SEQR determination,” Finnerty stated. “We are powerless to address this [unless the code is changed.]”

“For the last 10 years [The Group] has tried to change this … but we feel like we have been hitting our head against the wall,” Samuelson stated at the meeting. In reaction to public outcry, Group for the East End has formulated a solution in which the town would create an Environmental Review Committee (ERC).

According to the Group, the seven-member committee would “evaluate the potential environmental impacts of each application and issue a report, recommending a Determination of Significance to the appropriate lead agency” be that the planning board or the zoning board of appeals.

During the assessment process, the ERC would give members of the public three-minutes to speak on any particular project.

But some members of the CAC feel establishing the ERC would add another layer of bureaucracy.

“I could hear the pluses and minuses [of the proposal] at the CAC meeting,” said Pope later. “Why do we need yet another committee to take care of a process of another committee? I am definitely favorable towards the purpose of the proposal, but I think the planning board needs to hear the concerns of the public — not just get another set of recommendations.”

Opening the channels for public comment in the planning board proceedings is just one way CACs hope to establish a stronger foothold in town government. At a recent Bridgehampton CAC meeting, town supervisor Linda Kabot reportedly said she was taking steps to give CACs more access to the planning board.

The Sag Harbor CAC plans to hold Kabot to her word at an upcoming Shinnecock Hills CAC meeting on June 2, which will be attended by CACs and Civic Councils both east and west of the Shinnecock Canal. If their concerns are not met with tangible action in the town, Sag Harbor CAC chairman John Linder said the group hasn’t ruled out staging a protest in front of town hall in the coming months.

Gateway Approval Celebrated by Fans

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Generally at town board meetings, audience members are asked not to clap or boo for any project that is up for discussion — but on Tuesday night, the Southampton Town board room erupted in applause after three resolutions pertaining to the Sag Harbor Gateway Study were unanimously adopted.
The Sag Harbor Gateway Study represents a change to the entryway of Sag Harbor on the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike. The modification to the town’s master plan changes zoning in the area from Highway Business (HB) to Hamlet Office (HO).
The Sag Harbor Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC), spearheaded the effort to re-zone the area, but there had been opposition to the change from business owners along the turnpike, including Reid Brothers Inc., and Bay Burger restaurant.
The former zoning — highway business — allowed for commercial enterprises such as auto dealerships and taxicab services. Businesses allowed under the new zoning — hamlet office — are smaller, less obtrusive uses such as physicians offices and professional organizations.
The gateway project, which was sponsored by councilperson Chris Nuzzi under former Southampton supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney, has been in the works for nearly two years.
“This has been a long time coming,” Nuzzi said on Wednesday, “It’s really an important project for the Sag Harbor area, because it not only represents the gateway into the Village of Sag Harbor, but it is also an important component of the Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike from a land use perspective.”
Further, Nuzzi said this decision “shows a good balance of need for the area” by allowing for both professional office space and affordable housing “…of which the East End is in scarce supply.”
“The life is up for HB,” he added. “We should consider making changes to HB as it currently exists, and the zoning classification as it is now.”
In December, the Sag Harbor Gateway study area was expanded to include four more residential properties in the area. Those who favored the zone change expressed concern for Ligonee Brook, a stream that runs parallel to the study area, and environmental impacts major development projects could have on habitats in the area. They were also concerned about traffic flow and preserving the look of this area.
“I’m very pleased to see this has come to a conclusion that we all want,” said CAC member Priscilla Ciccariello. “We think it is going to serve to protect the character for the entryway to Sag Harbor and I think its something that is necessary because of the intensity of development in the past, and possibly would come in the future.”
Further, Ciccariello said the study was “endorsed by the fact that the neighbors have wanted to be included in it.”
“The church is going to be there and it’s going to be a nice design,” added Ciccariello referring to the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church’s plans for a new house of worship in the gateway area. “This will enhance the character.”
“I think it’s the right move — it took a long time,” said Jeremy Samuelson of Group for the East End. “The community really came together and decided that by coordinating with Sag Harbor Village to try and find ways to augment what they are doing with their village business district re-zoning and the zoning code re-write, it all just looked right and blended together.”
Samuelson added that this has not been an easy feat.
“It took a tremendous amount of hard work, but it’s a perfect example of community members and CACs, volunteers, non-profits, town employees and everyone getting together — and at the end of the day coming up with something that works.”
Southampton Town councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who resides in Sag Harbor, said she was glad the zone change was adopted.
“It is important from a scenic and a business development perspective … we were all just pleased to give it a 5-0 round.”
The first of the three resolutions adopted a negative declaration for the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) in connection with the updated Sag Harbor Gateway Plan, which included the four residential parcels. The second dealt with an amendment to the Southampton Town Comprehensive plan.
The final resolution changed the zoning from Highway Business (HB) and residential 20,000 square feet (R-20), to Hamlet Office (HO). All three were sponsored by Nuzzi and seconded by Throne-Holst.