To the Editor:
In the September 18 Sag Harbor Express article ‘Schneiderman clears Hurtles [sic] for Turtles,’ there is an implication that the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt (FLPG) and South Fork Natural History Museum (SoFo) opposed the upgrading of the old asphalt sidewalk along the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor Turnpike. We write to say that FLPG has never opposed making the sidewalk safer for all who use it. That said, once the nature of the upgrade became apparent last year, with high, straight-sided cement curbing running the entire length of the project and new storm drains being installed near fragile wetlands, we realized that the project had morphed into one that posed a grave threat to the wildlife of the Long Pond Greenbelt (LPG), the 1,100-acre nature preserve through which the turnpike passes.
FLPG raised concerns about the curbing and drainage from the moment the construction commenced, contacting state, county and town officials as well as local environmental groups. The Town of Southampton, the Nature Conservancy and Suffolk County have spent millions and millions of dollars preserving the LPG with a special focus on wildlife habitat, and yet the project proceeded. So-called ‘turtle friendly’ slanted curbs were added in some areas but these also proved insurmountable. In addition, because of the curbing, storm drains are now needed on a road that never had water issues. The county placed three of these storm drains along Slade Pond, directly on the migratory path of wildlife, including turtles and the New York State endangered tiger salamander. The curbing now directs them into the drains. Once again, as with the asphalt ramps, a temporary solution was made when this was brought to the county’s attention and the three drains were retrofitted with cloth magnetic covers that will need constant monitoring.
In October 2009 when FLPG invited Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman to our meeting to discuss the project to replace the existing sidewalk (a project we supported), Legislator Schneiderman told us there would be no curbing. FLPG requested technical details but none were forthcoming. Our group, SoFo and many residents along the project route never received a notice regarding project design change meetings. FLPG would like to think that if we had, we would have been able to prevent at the very start what has turned out to be a tragic mistake in highway design – a mistake which has already resulted in the death and maiming of turtles passing to and from the ponds and areas of the greenbelt divided by the turnpike.
How has the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and Jay Schneiderman’s office (who certainly were aware of the fragile Long Pond Greenbelt wetlands and wildlife corridor which reaches from Sag Harbor to Sagaponack) allowed this to happen? There is no easy answer. Accessing the necessary government documents about who knew what about the change in engineering specifications on this project is difficult. To date, the permits we have seen refer only to the installation of a sidewalk and according to a representative of the NYSDEC land management department, the original Department of Public Works plans did not show curbing or drainage.
Our early research shows that other states have, at the top levels of government, studied and adopted policies aimed at protecting species whose populations are threatened by road kill. We are eager to complete our research to ensure that at town, county and state levels, protective road specifications are in place and enforced.
We are inspired by the hundreds of people who have signed the petition we circulated recently asking for the removal of the curbs. Their support is a measure of our community’s depth of concern for the safety of vulnerable species subject to death on roads and in storm drains.
We ask that anyone who signed the petitions or any other parties interested in helping contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org). We have set our sights high; the sight of slaughtered turtles has spurred us on. Going forward, we hope to prevent a fiasco like this from happening again, whether locally at the northern end of the turnpike where it passes through the greenbelt’s Great Swamp, or anywhere on Long Island and New York State.
Vice President FLPG
The school bus issue is still unresolved for the Hillcrest neighborhood. The school board has decided to stick with their original misleading proposition #2 and try to extend bus privileges to each effected Hillcrest family on an individual basis rather than simply return bus services to the neighborhood they’ve served for over 20 years. We’ve been asked to make an appointment this week with Dr. Bonuso and plead our individual case for bus service.
Despite the promises that were made when the board of education originally proposed expanding the administration to assume management of the bus service, services have changed drastically for our working mothers and families who relied on the bus to take our older children to school. We heard from a mother in Hillcrest (Deerfield Dr. and Rte. 114) who must now walk her two toddlers down Rte. 114 a mile each way in all weather conditions to Sag Harbor Elementary School twice a day to retrieve her older children as their family only has a single vehicle. Working mothers now have a five-hour day to secure some form of employment or they have to work longer hours altogether to afford to pay for aftercare! We have a father that works nights who can now sleep only between the hours of noon and 2:30 pm because he transports the youngest child to pre-k and the older child must be picked up each afternoon. Coordinating a ride with other parents is easier said than done — most parents that pick up kids leave directly for after school activities and do not return home at all.
Ironically, not one member of the BOE can tell us what good has come from passing this misleading and unammendable proposition to limit bus services! They could not provide one example of a family that now has bus service who didn’t have it last year. They expressed reluctance to formally declare Rte. 114 a child safety zone as it had the potential of increasing their busing obligations and their budget. I disagree with their assertion that it would not qualify, as I have read the requirements for establishing a formal CSZ and it may be difficult; but it is possible if they have the will. The BOE could not provide a solution other than they might extend mercy to those of us who have had our services taken from us.
We want a permanent solution, we can’t trust that future administrators will honor the decisions of this administration — how can we? This administration failed to honor the good faith bus service agreement extended to our community for safety reasons 20 years ago!
The overall judgment of the board is in question here. Why pass any proposition that limits board discretion for no good reason? What good has come of this bureaucratic exercise? How are the interests of the school district served when a bus will stop 200 feet from my front door and I need to reveal my family’s personal information to the school superintendent in order for my daughter to get on it? If we were asking for a special route, a special stop, extra mileage or additions to an overcrowded bus, I could accept this policy. Providing services to Hillcrest will cost the district absolutely nothing as the empty bus will continue to serve this neighborhood daily for the three officially qualified children that live here! It will drive past 13 other SHES students to do this! It is absurd and wasteful and we deserve better.
This board attempted to fix something that was not broken and now they refuse to address the problems they’ve created in a permanent way. They want to patch up what was a flawed and misleading proposition to “align district policy with existing practices.” In fact they changed the existing practices to meet an inadequate new policy and they simply refuse to correct the mistake or properly define Rte. 114 as an unsafe road for elementary children to walk to school on.
Meet Chris Nuzzi
I am writing you today to introduce you to a friend of mine, Chris Nuzzi, who is running for Suffolk County Legislator. Maybe some of you know him already.
Chris has lived on the east end of Long Island his entire life and was a 1992 graduate of East Hampton High School. He earned his Masters Degree in Public Policy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and immediately began working in government. He is currently serving his second term on the Southampton Town Board.
I first met Chris about fifteen years ago when he married his wife Sandy, we became friends as well. Chris is now a Dad of four young boys and successfully juggles work and family. I’ve never thought of Chris as a typical politician. You know what I mean! Chris is a normal middle-class guy. He works two jobs, sticks to a budget and understands just how hard it is to stay on the east end.
Chris is eager to continue the dialogue with residents about the importance of fiscal stability in government and tending to the business and environmental preservation needs of our community. He believes that the conservative budgeting practices put in places within Southampton Town that have brought about surpluses and no tax levy increases for 3 years canbe replicated in Suffolk county. In addition, he will fight for a restructuring of aspects of County government that will better address the needs of our business community as well as a renewed commitment to environmental preservation.
I have to admit, I was always a little jealous that Southampton town had someone so intelligent and hardworking, with a “what’s right is right” attitude on their board. But now, we all have the opportunity to experience the communication, dedication and passion that Chris has to offer east enders.
If you would like to learn more about Chris, please visit his website www.chrisnuzzi.com. I hope you will consider supporting my friend, Chris Nuzzi, for Suffolk County Legislator on November 5, 2013.