Tag Archive | "Montauk"

Suit Targets Montauk Revetment

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Part of Montauk’s downtown beach. Photo by Mara Certic.

Defend H2O and the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation announced this week they had filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court seeking to halt the construction of a revetment by the Army Corps of Engineers along the Montauk oceanfront.

The suit names East Hampton Town, Suffolk County, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps for their role in approving the “Downtown Montauk Stabilization Project.”

The project consists of constructing a revetment measuring 3,100 feet in length extending from the Atlantic Terrace Motel to Emery Street. The revetment will be created by stacking 14,560 geotextile sandbags weighing approximately 1.7 tons each. As built, the 50-foot wide structure will span the narrow beach creating an unnatural “bump out.” The result of this shoreline hardening project is the inevitable loss of beach, the suit charges.

“The assertion by some officials that the geotextile sandbags are not shoreline

hardening, will have no adverse impacts to the beach and deemed a temporary action in the context of the prescribed plan is scientifically indefensible. Although officials were fully informed, they made a conscious decision to sacrifice a public beach in favor of private property interests,” said Kevin McAllister, the founder of Defend H20.

“If implemented, this project sets a terrible precedent for the Town of East Hampton, whose economy is largely driven by it natural beaches,” added Mike Bottin of the Surfrider Foundation.

Fire Destroys East Hampton House of Hard Rock Cafe Co-Founder

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Firefighters spent almost eight hours extinguishing a fire that destroyed the house at 57 West End Road. Photography by Michael Heller.

By Mara Certic

Seven fire departments spent most of the afternoon and evening of March 18  battling a fire that destroyed the East Hampton house of Hard Rock Café co-founder Peter Morton.

Strong winds fueled the fire, which otherwise “could have been manageable,” according to East Hampton Fire Department Chief Richard Osterberg. The oceanfront house at 57 West End Road caught fire apparently when construction workers used a torch on the roof. Pockets of fire continued to burn late that night. There were no injuries.

“The house is a total loss,” Chief Osterberg said over the phone on Friday. According to the chief, the 911 call came in at approximately 2:35 p.m.; nearly 100 firefighters responded to the call and the last tanker did not leave the scene until 10:30 p.m., almost eight hours later, he said.

Chief Osterberg said that the fire appeared to be accidental and that there was no reason to believe it was suspicious.

“The wind really didn’t do us any favors,” the chief said, noting that the house has wide open fields on one side and Georgica Pond on the other.

By the time the first firefighters were on the scene, it had become apparent that it would be too dangerous to allow firefighters into the building and instead they decided to attack the flames from the exterior, dousing the burning house with huge quantities of water.

Winter winds were blowing hot embers around and firefighters worried that the flames would spread. “The house to the east was our main concern,” the chief said. West End Road is long and narrow, Chief  Osterberg explained, making it difficult for firefighters to get water from their tankers to the pumpers.

Not long after the call came through, other nearby departments were called in to provide mutual aid, the chief said. The Amagansett Fire Department sent a tanker as well as an engine and helped to lay hose, Mr. Osterberg said.

Springs, Montauk, Sag Harbor,  and Southampton fire departments all responded to requests for mutual aid and provided more manpower and firefighting equipment.hellerfire

Members of the North Sea Fire Department were sent in to serve as standby at the Emergency Services Building on Cedar Street in case another emergency call came in.

At approximately 5 p.m., the North Sea firefighters responded to an alarm at East Hampton Airport, when a plane skidded off the runway. With North Sea responding to that call, volunteers from Hampton Bays were brought in to stand by at the East Hampton headquartes on Cedar Street.

According to East Hampton Town Police, David Bulgin, 62, of Sag Harbor was the pilot and the sole occupant of the Beechcraft Baron BE 58 that skidded off the runway after experiencing a landing gear malfunction after landing on the main runway.

The plane was damaged and had to be removed from the runway. Mr. Bulgin walked away from the scene unscathed. The Federal Aviation Administration will conduct a full investigation on the incident, according to a release issued by the East Hampton Town Police.

“Out here we’re so lucky—everyone works so well together,” Chief Osterberg said. In addition to all the help from various fire departments, Amagansett and East Hampton Village sent ambulances to the fire near Georgica and the village police were “a tremendous help.”

By the mid-evening, an excavation crew from Keith Grimes, Inc. was working on removing debris from the property, and by the next morning, thanks to village police keeping an eye on the house, there was nothing left burning on the land.

“I feel I have a good department, to know you have friends that are willing to do whatever” is great, Chief Osterberg added.

Tensions Soar at East Hampton Airport Hearing as Critics and Supporters Air Their Views

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Andy Sabin warned the board that adopting the four proposed regulations would hurt the local economy. Photography by Michael Heller. 

By Mara Certic

Since proposed flight restrictions at East Hampton Airport were unveiled last month, many members of the local aviation community have argued the laws will surely result in increased taxes and the eventual closure of the airport.

According to some, the four restrictions the town board is considering would not only have repercussions on local aviators, but will also have a devastating domino effect on the local economy and would result in large swathes of summer visitors and second homeowners picking up shop and relocating to towns and villages that are friendlier to air traffic.

“We are a resort community dependent on seasonal traffic, and that can’t be ignored. Facilitating access to the Hamptons is what feeds our economy,” said local pilot and hangar-owner Rod Davidson at a hearing on the proposals on Thursday, March12.

“The proposed restrictions on aircraft traffic are a death sentence not only to the airport but to hundreds of jobs and countless businesses. I find it baffling that the town board continues to place the agenda of a handful of people above preserving one of its most important economic assets,” he said.

Several of those who attended the hearing to speak out in opposition of the proposed regulations were employed by Sound Aircraft Services, the 25-year-old business that provides fueling and ground services at the airport. Maureen Quigley, a 22-year-employee of Sound Aircraft, was adamant that the airport would not be able to survive a trial run of what she described were “egregious” restrictions.

“To some extent, any change in the airport affects the working people more than any other group in the town,” said Mitchell Moss from the New York University  Center for Transportation, because the working people work for many airport-users, he said.

Ms. Quigley added that the restrictions are in effect condemning her clients “for being rich and privileged.”

While those who complain about noise have for years asked the town board to consider their needs over the wealthy 1 percent who frequently use the airport, airport supporters tried to turn the tables when they said that the number of people who are actually affected by noise is actually just a small, but vocal, minority, compared to the number of people who benefit from the airport.

Local pilot Bruno Schreck had several large visual aids made for the hearing, and when his presentation was cut short because of a 3-minute limit on comments, he returned before the town board at its work session on Tuesday, March 17, to finish his presentation.

Mr. Schreck believes that the public has been misled by the presentation of complaint data in previous noise analyses prepared for the town. Mr. Schreck maintained that the town’s use of a logarithmic scale distorted the facts, and made it look as though more households had complained, when in fact, 10 houses represent one half of all complaints.

Mr. Schreck prepared one graph, which was intended to visually show the reward and risks of the airport. Mr. Schreck concluded that the rewards outweighs the risks, with the airport enabling 8,666 people to enjoy summertime on the East End and only ruining the summers of 200 local residents who are “frequent complainers.” Mr. Schreck’s figures are based on the assumption that there were approximately four passengers served in each of the 26,000 operations at the East Hampton Airport last year; he then divided 104,000 by 12, assuming that each of the passengers came to the East End for all 12 of the summer weekends.

Mr. Schreck also warned that if the airport is in fact shut down, planes will continue to travel overhead and disrupt residents as city-dwellers will still jet over the East End to second homes in Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, but will no longer contribute money to the local economy.

Amagansett resident Andrew Sabin said he moved to the area 24 years ago, and the airport was one of the big draws. Airport users pay a huge chunk of local taxes, Mr. Sabin said, and he, like many aviators, warned the town that these restrictions would likely result in lengthy litigation. The town has already earmarked $3 million for airport-related litigation.

“Wouldn’t this money be better spent helping charities in this town?” he asked. Mr. Sabin’s son Jonathan also warned the town board that restrictions would only succeed in enraging helicopter users and said that if the airport users got together and agreed not to pay their property taxes “the town would be broke over night.”

“I know quite a few of the helicopter users at the airport. I can tell you right now that each and every one of them could afford a yacht, with a helipad, and would gladly park their yacht right out on the water here and land right on the yachts,” he said. “It’s dangerous to enrage that demographic.”

And on the other side of the aisle…

For East End residents craving quieter skies, four proposed flight restrictions at East Hampton Airport are like the light at the end of 20-year-old tunnel.

Heller_EH Town Board Airport Hearing @ LTV 3-12-15_7185_LR

North Haven Village Trustee Dianne Skilbred asked the town to put in place all four of the regulations.

Now that restrictions are finally in sight, supporters spent their allotted individual 3 minutes of public comment at a hearing on the proposals at LTV Studios in Wainscott on Thursday, March 12, thanking the town board for its hard work and transparency and asking it to “hold fast” with the proposed legislation.

In addition to environmentalists and residents, elected officials from four East End towns and Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski commended the members of the board for the courage they have shown in what has been described in acting for the greater good in what has become a regional issue.

Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming urged the town to continue with its airport diversion study, which seeks to find out where flights barred from East Hampton would ultimately end up. As the town’s liaison for both Noyac and Sag Harbor, she assured the town board “that there are many, many people in the community whose quality life is impacted” by aircraft noise.

“We thank you for your courage,” wrote Vincent Cavello in a letter to the town board read by Kathleen Cunningham of the Quiet Skies Coalition. “It is a sad truth that East Hampton is becoming a poster child for inequality in this country.”

While the Friends of the East Hampton Airport Coalition, a group made up of several New Jersey-based aviation businesses, and other entities have filed suit against the town, Mr. Cavello’s letter said the board “responded to these and other lawsuits without breaking stride, knowing that the law is on the side of those who own the airport—the citizens of East Hampton—not those who exploit the airport and the town for their own economic gain.”

David Gruber, who has been an airport opponent for decades, said that the rumors that the proposed laws would make the airport financially unviable were “theatrical nonsense.” He also referred to a group of pilots filing suits against the town who call themselves the friends of the East Hampton Airport as “the self-serving operators from far away.”

Mr. Gruber serves on the town’s airport budget and finance advisory committee), which has been so far unable to come to a consensus about the economic impacts on the airport if the proposed rules are implemented. Members of the aviation community have said this inability to reach a consensus shows that the proposed restrictions are discriminatory and extreme. Those who complain about the noise had a different take.

“The airport can easily support itself without any need of FAA grants or taxpayer subsidies. Its income of more than $1 million a year is more than enough for all of its capital budget and other needs,” Mr. Gruber said.

He conceded the town would have to find ways to replace landing and fuel revenue if the town adopted the restrictions.

“A 50-percent landing fee increase would almost surely suffice. It sounds like a lot only because landing fees have been kept artificially low for years by FAA subsidies. The landing fee for a small aircraft would increase to $16.50—less than parking at Main Beach,” he said.

“The additional $330 for a $36 million Gulf Stream 5 that costs $7,500 an hour to operate would also be the cost of three minutes of flight time. This relationship that the fee increase equals about three minutes of flight time holds true across the board. It is a trivial amount,” he added.

Tensions rose on Thursday night when Wainscott resident Irving Paler began naming those who have logged the most complaints against the East Hampton Airport, asking them “Where do you find the time?”

Not only did those supporting the regulations begin applauding the top-complainers, but East Hampton resident Paul Keeber took it upon himself to respond to Mr. Paler’s question.

“I’m sitting with my beautiful wife, at our beautiful home on the back deck. Suddenly the overwhelming noise from a helicopter’s blade forces me to stop speaking to my wife. At that moment we pick up the phone right next to us and call the complaint line. Eight minutes later, a helicopter blade overhead forces me to stop speaking to my wife and I pick up the phone and I call the complaint line. And then 14 minutes later a helicopter blade overhead forces me to stop speaking to my wife so we call the complaint line,” he explained.

Many supporters of the legislation likened the regulations to any other laws that aim to conserve and preserve. “These resolutions embody a time-honored tradition of policy for the greater good, to help industry bring its standards up to community values,” Ms. Cunningham said on Thursday. “We are not asking people not to come here, we’re asking them to come quietly,” she added.

In response to claims that many people come to East Hampton simply because they can fly here in helicopters in less than an hour, Sag Harbor’s Patricia Currie responded “such people are mythical beasts, they’re unicorns, they don’t exist.”

Ms. Currie reminded the room that visitors have been making the long trip to the East End since the horse and buggy.

“If there are people who won’t live here without helicopters, they will be replaced by others who will,” Ms. Currie added.

“We need helicopters like Shelter Island needs a bridge and Montauk needs high speed ferry service to Connecticut casinos. Please pass the restrictions,” she said. “We will survive.”

Terry Watson

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Terry Watson will be the grand marshal of Montauk’s 53rd annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, March 22. She has lived in Montauk for 42 years and  spoke about St. Patrick’s Day traditions and the changing face of Montauk.

When did you hear that you had been named this year’s grand marshal?

I’m not sure exactly of the date, but it was early in January, and I was in St. John, in the Virgin Islands, and I got a phone call and at first I didn’t take it seriously. You know George [Terry’s husband George Watson, owner of The Dock, is known to appreciate a good joke]. I didn’t take the phone call seriously at all, I just thought it was someone putting on an Irish accent and teasing me, You know what Montauk’s like. But then they asked me and I was stunned, and honored and humbled. I started to get pretty emotional, and so when they asked “Will you?” I just said “Yes… Okay, bye!” and hung up on them! I just had to get off the phone, I thought I was going to cry. It’s so exciting.

Has George been Montauk’s Grand Marshal before?

Yes he is, and I think we’re the third married couple to be grand marshals, separately of course.

Do you have a St. Patrick’s Day tradition of your own?

Actually, not so much anymore. When my children were younger, we always went to the parade, and when they went to high school they went to LaSalle and they always marched in the parade. So all the traditions we had kind of ended as they grew up, and it just became a question of walking down town and meeting friends. I did have a tradition with some women I played poker with; we would meet after the parade for an Irish whiskey toast.

So you’ve lived in Montauk for 42 years. You’ve seen it transformed over the years. Do you think Montauk is changing in a way that’s irreversible?

 I’ve seen the most drastic change say within the last five, maybe even 10 years. Beginning with the Surf Lodge, and then going to the Ronjo and more recently the sale of East Deck and the proposed and pending sales of a few other places that certainly impact the nature of the community as it used to be, but could I say what that change means? I think it’s probably too soon to tell. Most of what’s happened is just an influx of new people and very, very busier seasons right now. It seems to be a different tourism, based more on a younger, maybe, dare I say, more moneyed group,  than the families and fishermen that we used to. So yeah, there is a change, what it means I’m not sure. My husband is still very, very active in the business, and our son Chris is, and now there’s a third generation with baby Hayes [Ms. Watson’s newest grandson] growing up in the harbor area as well. We’re not changing, obviously, we’re just doing what we do.

What St. Patrick’s Day festivities are on your schedule for the next few days?

Well the parade [in the City] was on Tuesday, which I have to say was absolutely glorious because the sun came out and the St. Patrick’s Day feel in New York City, and in particular that part on Fifth Avenue, is really just great. So that got me all set. The next thing in a luncheon at Gurney’s on Friday, which is a tradition started by John and Marilyn Behan of grand marshals of the past honoring the current grand marshal, and it evolved from that. Joan Lycke will be hosting that. Then Saturday, also at Gurney’s, there will be a more music-centered, festive cocktail party. And then Sunday is the parade.  I hope it’s a beautiful sunny day. Being grand marshal does involve doing a little bit of a pub crawl with the Friends of Erin, which is nice because the businesses are just opening back up for the season. Even if it snows, it’s still St. Patrick’s Day, you still know that the light has changed, the air has changed, and it’s coming.

Montauk’s 53rd St. Patrick’s Day Parade will start at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 22 on Edgemere Road. The parade will move from Edgemere Road down Main Street to downtown Montauk. For more information visit montaukfriendsoferin.org.

 

 

The End for Montauk?

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Still not convinced that Montauk has jumped the shark? The place once known for commercial and recreational fishing, surfing and little else has been overrun by hipsters the last few years, with seedy watering holes turned into elegant bars and restaurants and rundown motels turned into five-star resorts.

Now, it seems the place known as the “The End” or “The Last Resort” will be the backdrop for yet another reality show.

According to Casting Loop, Brooke Thomas Casting in New York is looking for New York City professional men and women between the ages of 25 and 35 for a new reality show called, originally enough, “Montauk.”

“We are looking for peeps who have full-time jobs in the city but who can hop on the Jitney or train and head to the Hamptons every weekend in July and August,” the release says. “We’re looking for all types of professionals from lawyers, advertising peeps, doctors, brokers actors, bankers, agents, real estate peeps, nurses, models, fashionistas, socialites….”

 The pay is a free summer share house, which, it should be pointed out, are illegal in East Hampton Town, and “the best parties and summer you will ever have.”

If you know any peeps who would be interested, direct them to talent@BrookeThomasCasting.com.

Tensions Soar Over Proposed Airport Restrictions In East Hampton

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By Mara Certic

Tensions soared on Thursday evening, as two sides battled it out during a public hearing on four proposed laws designed to curb the noise problem at East Hampton Airport.

Members of the aviation industry, local pilots and some business owners sparred with environmentalists and residents from four different East End towns at a hearing on proposed restrictions which would theoretically limit operations at East Hampton Airport by approximately one third while addressing almost two thirds of the noise problem.

Over 70 people addressed the East Hampton Town Board during a three-and-a-half-hour-long meeting on Thursday, March 12 at LTV Studios, however unlike previous meetings where the speakers were predominately those spear-heading the noise abatement movement, those involved in aviation were also out in full force.

Members of the Quiet Skies Coalition, and other like-minded individuals, lined up to thank the board for their hard work and to lend support to their four proposed restrictions which in their minds have not gone far enough to tackle the problem of noise on the East End.

David Gruber, who has been an open opponent to the airport for some time, said that the rumors that the proposed laws would make the airport financially unviable were “theatrical nonsense.” He also said referred to a group of aviators filing suits against the town who call themselves the friends of the East Hampton Airport “the self-serving operators from far away.”

One self-proclaimed friend of the airport took it upon himself to name the names of the top complainers of noise at East Hampton Airport, in an effort to show that the problem is not as widespread as community members would have the board think. This then spurred applause from members of the noise-affected community, who believe that the number of complainants is way lower than those who claim to be plagued and tortured by the noise.

Other members of the aviation community were adamant that the proposed restrictions would be detrimental to the region at large, and would result in a huge hit to the East End economy, as they claim the airport draws in visitors who otherwise would not be spending their time or money on the East End.

Montauk and Southampton residents expressed some concern that the proposed laws would have an unforeseen negative impact on neighboring hamlets if flights and helicopter operations were to move to nearby airports.

The public comment period will remain open in East Hampton Town until the end of business of Friday, March 20.

 

 

Army Corps Montauk Project Opposed

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Surrider website photoThe Eastern Long Island Chapter the Surfrider Foundation has launched a petition drive on Change.org against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to bolster the beach at Montauk with geotextile bags and tubes 10.5 high and 35 feet wide and sand berms along some 3,100 feet of oceanfront. The project would require 100,000 cubic yards of sand, most of which would be trucked in from a quarry.

The berm and a portion of the seawall would be located in what is known as the ocean intertidal zone, which is covered by water at high tide. The group says the project would be susceptible to more erosion and require taxpayers to pay the costs of maintaining the artificial dune, which it estimates could cost up to $1 million a year, with Suffolk County providing no more than half that cost.

Proposals to protect private property should not be approved if they will result in the destruction, or degradation, of the public beach. This proposal will compound the mistakes made in the 1960s and 1970s when development destroyed the protective primary dune; if implemented, it will result in the destruction of the natural beach as well, Surfrider says.

The petition can be accessed by visiting the chapter’s website.

Residents Concerned About What East Hampton Airport Regulations Could Mean for Montauk

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A grassroots organization in Montauk asked the town board to consider what regulations at East Hampton airport could mean for the island’s eastern most airport. Photo by Cara Rooney. 

By Mara Certic

As the East Hampton Town Board scheduled public hearings this week for controversial new airport regulations, which would effectively ban helicopters from East Hampton Airport on summer weekends as well as impose a strict nighttime curfew, another group aired concerns about the negative effects the laws could have on neighboring airports.

The town board on February 4 unveiled draft legislation, which it said would reduce airport traffic by a third, and is designed to tackle a large portion of the noise problem on the East End.

East Hampton officials maintain that they effectively gained proprietary control over the airport at the beginning of the year when the town’s commitments under Federal Aviation Administration grants expired, and the town opted out of future funding from the federal agency.

But Jeremy Samuelson, executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, said the new restrictions on East Hampton Airport could have unintended consequences for the small Montauk Airport. He read a letter to the board on Tuesday, February 10, asking it to weigh those consequences.

“CCOM believes strongly that the town board has a responsibility to understand and describe possible impacts to Montauk stemming from the proposed legislation,” he said.  “Demonstrate whether alternatives to the proposed legislation could achieve similar results for East Hampton while minimizing or eliminating impacts for Montauk and identify specific measures that could minimize impacts to Montauk.”

There is concern that the new restrictions at the East Hampton Airport, could result in a spike in helicopter traffic over Montauk’s privately owned 40-acre airport.

“The aviation consultants working for East Hampton Town should be tasked with determining where traffic currently landing at East Hampton Airport is most likely to land in the event restrictions are adopted, including projections for Montauk Airport, Gabreski Airport and the Southampton Dune Road heliport,” Mr. Samuelson’s letter stated.

He added that the town should begin working with the FAA, Senator Charles Schumer and U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin to put in place a mandatory over-water approach for helicopters landing at Montauk Airport.

One change has already been made to the legislation, which was first proposed last week. That alteration is in the definition of the types of “noisy” aircraft that would be subjected to an extended curfew from 8 p.m. through to 9 a.m. These noisy aircraft would now just be those with published approach levels above 91 decibels for the purposes of the law.

The town will soon publish and make available lists of which aircraft fall into the noisy category. The amendment to the law means that the restrictions would now only affect 24 percent of all operations and would still address 67 percent of the complaints (without the change, it was estimated 31 percent of flights would be affected, dealing with 74 percent of the noise problem.)

Public hearings will take place for each of the four proposed airport regulations at a special early meeting at LTV Studios on Thursday, March 5, at 4:30 p.m. in order to provide substantial time for the ample public comment expected.

Targeting Share Houses

Assistant Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski presented the town board with the latest suggestions on how to tackle the problem of share houses and illegal rentals, which each year seems to become more prevalent on the East End.

When residents recoiled last year at the suggestion of a rental registration law, Supervisor Larry Cantwell said the town would look to strengthen its existing code in an effort to target the issue of illegally occupied housing.

“The over-arching and the number-one issue that should be addressed from an enforcement point of view is over-occupancy on a year-round basis,” Mr. Sendlenski said on Tuesday.

He recommended the whole section of the code be revised to create a better system. One idea is that certain things could be considered presumptive evidence of overcrowding, so code enforcement officers would not have to physically witness a large number of people staying in one room. For instance, three beds in one bedroom could be used to prove an unsafe situation, he said, rather than having to catch up with the individuals supposedly using them, which can be difficult in the transient environment of a share house.

“We would still be showing overcrowding by square footage, but this would provide us with not having to witness the individuals within that space,” he said.

Mr. Sendlenski also suggested increasing the maximum fine from $1,000 to $2,500 for the first offense. He recommended the fine be doubled for second offenders, and doubled again for third offenders.

Vaccine Debate Rages On in Sag Harbor

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Dr. Gail Schonfeld gives an injection to a little girl in January 2011. Photo by Michael Heller.

Dr. Gail Schonfeld gives an injection to a young girl. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

The recent measles outbreak, which started in California, has evoked fear among parents, painful memories among doctors, and intense debate, finger pointing and even name-calling from all sides nationwide. The outbreak has fueled discussion on playgrounds, in waiting rooms, and on Facebook groups here on the East End, where an estimated 3 percent of school children are not fully vaccinated.

Largely centered on the M.M.R. vaccine, which targets measles, mumps and rubella, the debate has made unlikely bedfellows of those on the far left and those on the far right. A growing number of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children for a growing number of reasons, ranging from their belief in holistic medicine, the power of Mother Nature and the natural strength of the human body’s immune system, to a general mistrust of government, injections and in some cases, science itself.

An airborne disease that is highly contagious, measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, but experts believe recent outbreaks originated with international travel to areas that have low or non-existent immunization rates, like parts of Africa.

“There’s measles in the world, there’s international travel and when you get below a certain percentage of people who are adequately immunized, the disease will start to spread and it will come back, and that is exactly what has happened,” said Dr. Gail Schonfeld, an East Hampton pediatrician who has been in practice for 33 years.

Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are often clustered in geographic hubs, making the disease’s spread more likely. The recent outbreak of measles in California, where a growing number of children are not vaccinated, has been linked to Disneyland, but originated outside the U.S.

Health experts believe outbreaks are limited when the population is above a certain immunization rate, due to a phenomenon called “herd immunity.” If a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated, believed to be 95 percent for measles, the disease cannot spread to enough people during its incubation period to sustain itself, which is why recent outbreaks have been contained.

So, although recent outbreaks stem from international travel rather than non-vaccinated American children, if the numbers of unvaccinated children continue to rise, the disease will spread more easily the next time it comes to the U.S.

A measles outbreak in Ohio last June, connected to Amish missionaries returning from the Philippines, more than doubled in size in 10 days and eventually spread to 339 mostly unvaccinated Amish people, according to state health officials. Ohio granted more than three times as many religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccines to kindergarten students in 2013 than it did in 2000.

Unlike in Ohio and some other states, philosophical exemptions from vaccines are not permitted in New York, but the rate of religious exemptions has risen over the last decade, from 0.23 percent in 2000 to 0.45 percent in 2011, according to a 2013 study in the medical journal Pediatrics.

The current rate of immunization in the Bridgehampton School District is 98 percent, with all but three students fully vaccinated. Those children, the district said, are partially vaccinated, but have religious exemption from some vaccines.

In the Sag Harbor School District, 97 percent of students are vaccinated, with 3 percent exempt for religious and medical reasons, according to the district.

On Monday, February 9, the New York State Department of Health sent a letter to all school superintendents in the state reminding schools to follow the requirements for vaccinations.

“Given the recent media attention and the fact that DOH has confirmed three cases of measles in New York State, including New York City, we write to remind you to continue to take all appropriate measures to protect New York’s students through your responsibility to oversee children’s admissions to school,” said the letter.

Under state law, children must receive vaccinations before attending public or private school, unless a doctor confirms that vaccines will harm the child or a parent provides a written explanation of a “genuine and sincere” religious objection, which school officials can accept or reject.

Parties on all sides of the debate are guilty of fear mongering; Some M.M.R. opponents link the vaccine to autism, despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to support their claim, while some vaccine proponents incorrectly assert that the instances of measles are testament to a rapidly approaching epidemic that immediately puts all American babies at risk. The extent of loud, often misinformed opinions on both sides can make researching vaccines difficult for the average parent.

Elizabeth Schmitt, an East Hampton mother who decided against vaccinating her eldest daughter Ruby, first became aware of the arguments against vaccines through an Internet message board, branched off of Parents.com. As she continued to “read around” online, the new mother quickly became “really scared.”

As Ruby neared kindergarten age, her younger brother, Cole, at the time about 15 months old and also not vaccinated, started to show strange symptoms: he stopped talking, started twitching and had a high fever.

“It was just all these really scary symptoms out of the blue,” said Ms. Schmitt, “and the funny thing was that all these symptoms were what people kept saying would happen to kids after the M.M.R., but he never had it, so that had me rethinking things really fast.”

“I was looking at a lot of different websites that, I guess in hindsight, aren’t as credible as I thought they were at the time, so then I started looking at the sources. If the site had an article about a certain study, instead of just reading the article, I started reading the study—and realized that the study didn’t say anything that the guy said in the article, and that was really aggravating,” she added.

Ms. Schmitt changed her opinion after further research, and now her children, Ruby, Cole, and 23-month-old Andy, are all fully vaccinated.

“Even the parents who choose not to vaccinate now, we’re all just on the same team, really, everybody’s just really scared about the whole thing,” she said, adding that the “real information” and scientific studies are far more difficult to find, read and understand than the anti-vaccine “sites that we have, like Natural News and the crazy stuff that’s not even true, but so user-friendly and so easy to read, that we didn’t find reason not to believe it.”

While Dr. Schonfeld said she understands “completely and absolutely where the misinformation is coming from and why people are saying and doing what they’re doing,” the pediatrician recently announced that families who choose not to vaccinate are no longer welcome in her practice, as she has “no question [that decision is] wrong on every level.”

“I think what people have to understand is the balance between personal choice and safety and social responsibility. This is the United States and we’re all about personal choice, but when your personal choice endangers the safety of your child and others around you, that’s the line you cannot cross,” she said.

Although she finds many parents’ fear of vaccines unfounded, Dr. Schonfeld’s experience practicing medicine before some of them were invented gives her a larger, more tangible fear: the return of measles and other preventable diseases.

“I’ve personally known and diagnosed children with several of the diseases that we now prevent with the vaccines, and I’ve seen some horrible, horrible things in my time—and I’ve seen the changes, so I understand it from a very different point of view,” she said. “I have very clear memories of the pain and suffering and death of these children and what their families went through…but I also have seen how it’s changed my life to not have these sudden life-threatening infections occurring in children. It’s very challenging to diagnose and treat them and have them survive.”

Although recent measles outbreaks in the U.S. are “horrible,” Dr. Schonfeld believes the incidence of measles is not high enough to justify a routine immunization at six months of age, rather than the standard 12 months.

“I am a firm believer of science and not emotion when it comes to the practice of medicine…When there is as much measles in the United States as there is in, say, parts of Africa where there is no vaccination, yes, we would go back to doing [immunizations before 12 months]—I just don’t think I could stand it if we got to that point,” she said. “I’m really thinking maximum one or two children dying, people are going to get it and stop doing this.”

i-Tri Girls Find Self-Empowerment Through Triathlons

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Guadalupe Rojas mentally prepares for the race in i-tri. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

Guadalupe Rojas mentally prepares for the race in i-tri. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

By Tessa Raebeck 

Theresa Roden’s motivation to run a triathlon came from a somewhat surprising source of inspiration: sitting on the beach. While visiting Block Island, Ms. Roden, who lives in Springs, saw a group of jubilant runners dart by, turned to her family and said, quite simply, “I’m going to do this next year.”

“They all looked at me like I had 25 heads,” said Ms. Roden, who not only ran, swam and biked across Block Island the following year, but also encouraged a group of some 20 East Enders to do the same. In 2010, she founded i-tri, a six-month program that uses training for a triathlon to teach local girls about health and nutrition, self-empowerment, and camaraderie.

“For me, it was the first time in my entire life that I cut myself some slack,” Ms. Roden said of her training. “I changed that inner dialogue. We all have that negative self-talk that we do to ourselves and I, for the first time, discovered I didn’t have to be so critical and if I was just a little kinder to myself, things were a lot easier. I just totally changed the way that I felt about myself and I talked about myself and to myself—and everything started to change.”

(L to R) Marissa Harry, Kaya Mulligan, Alicia Benis  finish the i-tri race. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

(L to R) Marissa Harry, Kaya Mulligan, Alicia Benis finish the i-tri race. Photo courtesy Theresa Roden.

Lamenting that she hadn’t changed her self-talk 20 years earlier, when her daughter Abby entered the sixth grade, Ms. Roden created i-tri for Abby and seven other girls in her class at Springs School. I-tri expanded to the Montauk School in 2012 and to Southampton last year, and on Monday, January 26, the Sag Harbor Board of Education will vote on whether to adopt the program at Pierson Middle School.

Offered free of charge to every participant, i-tri consists of triathlon-specific training of swimming, biking or running on Saturdays, weekly group lessons focused on self-esteem building and leadership skills, after-school fitness classes such as yoga and spinning, and hands-on nutrition classes, which families are welcome to attend.

The school district is asked to provide a space for i-tri to hold the in-school sessions and possibly the nighttime nutrition sessions, for support from relevant personnel such as guidance counselors, and possibly also for transportation to certain meetings. Training and classes start in March, culminating with the race in mid-July.

While training is limited to sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls, i-tri graduates often remain involved through mentorship. The eight girls who took part the first year are now juniors at East Hampton High School, and several of them started an i-tri-inspired empowerment club that meets periodically and invites successful, local women to come speak to students.

Although crossing the finish line is the most tangible reward, i-tri is at its core about empowering the girls in all aspects of their lives.

“It’s not all about training for the race,” said Maria Chavez, a freshman at East Hampton High School who started the program as a sixth grader in Springs and plans to race again this year, adding that i-tri encouraged the girls and “made us feel confident about ourselves…and we weren’t afraid to tell each other anything; we had so much support.”

“It’s all about feeling good,” said Ms. Roden. “There’s nothing more important than that I feel good, because when I feel good I have more to give the world and when I give to the world, I get back.”