Environmental Issues Tackled

Jerry Larsen, left, Manny Vilar, center, and Paul Giardina, Republican candidates, discussed environmental issues at Scoville Hall last Thursday in a forum sponsored by Concerned Citizens of Montauk and the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. Durell Godfrey

Democratic candidates for East Hampton Town Supervisor and town board defended the present board’s environmental policies and accomplishments at a forum last Thursday at Scoville Hall in Amagansett, while their Republican challengers criticized the Democrats’ record and offered their own proposals. 

Concerned Citizens of Montauk and the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund co-sponsored the forum, in which the parties’ candidates answered questions in separate sessions. 

The parties take opposing positions with respect to the South Fork Wind Farm, a proposed installation that would be some 36 miles from Montauk in federally leased waters that overlap with historically productive fishing grounds. Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who is running for supervisor, noted that the Trump administration lifted the ban on oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic coastline. “We may be looking at offshore oil drilling,” he said, in arguing for the wind farm, which could be operational in 2022. “A single spill along that coastline could devastate our fishing community and our economy. . . . We should move to renewables.” 

Deepwater Wind, the company that plans to build the wind farm, has told the town board that it is “trying to engage with the fishing industry and find out what areas are most productive so they can site away from them,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, and he has personally expressed opposition to the transmission cable’s route through Gardiner’s Bay, an initial plan that fishermen flatly oppose. 

His Republican opponent, Manny Vilar, said that, while he is in favor of all forms of renewable energy, “Those windmills at that location are a problem.” 

Asked if they would support the town’s goal of meeting all of its electricity needs through renewable sources by 2020, Paul Giardina, a Republican running for town board and a longtime official of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, said that while he supports the goal, solar power is the only option that could be online by that deadline. “The town owns enough land between the available acreage at the airport and the recycling centers to create as much as 10,000 to 15,000 homes’ worth of electricity,” he said. (The South Fork Wind Farm, if constructed, is expected to produce energy sufficient to power around 50,000 residences.)

Moreover, it is possible that the Trump administration will cancel federal leases for renewable energy development, he said. “Right now, the offshore windmill issue doesn’t get us where we want to go, and in fact may evaporate before us. . . . Let’s focus on getting something that works by 2020.” 

Jerry Larsen, a Republican running for a seat on the town board, accused the present Democratic-led board of inaction on environmental issues, save for election-year moves designed to help its electoral prospects. “The town . . . created an East Hampton Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2015 — an election year,” he said. “This plan has hundreds of potential future actions, and very little has been done by this town board. . . . Has the town reduced its carbon footprint? I don’t think so.” 

Mr. Van Scoyoc countered that the goal is “extremely ambitious,” but “if you don’t set the bar high you’re not going to get very far.” He acknowledged that the town may not meet the 2020 target, given the South Fork Wind Farm is at least five years from operation, but cited other initiatives including efficiency upgrades to town-owned properties, new lighting in downtown Montauk that he said would save 40 percent on electricity costs there, and the adoption of a home energy rating system that is more stringent than New York State’s building code.

“We are not going to succeed,” said Jeff Bragman, a Democratic candidate for town board, “unless we seriously examine wind power, being careful to do an environmental review process that takes into account potential impacts.”

The parties’ candidates also hold opposing views on the community preservation fund’s provision, approved by voters last year, that would allocate up to 20 percent of its revenues to water quality improvement projects. That money could be appropriated to replace aged or failing septic systems, which are blamed for nitrogen and phosphorous leaching into ground and surface water, with state-of-the-art systems. 

Using that money, Mr. Giardina said, “seems inappropriate when there is a $2.2 billion fund to address every septic waste problem we have here,” he said of the E.P.A.’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. “It can replace every person’s failed septic system . . . and it can do it for an amortized cost of less than your cable bill.” 

Money from that federal fund would need to be matched by the town. 

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that he supported the C.P.F. amendment, “unlike our counterparts.” Mr. Giardina, he said, “is the only person I ever saw speak publicly against the use of 20 percent of the fund for water quality; he thinks we should borrow the money from the federal government.” He also criticized the Republicans’ plan to prioritize replacement of septic systems built before 1995. “In fact, every single system has failed in the town with regard to nitrogen reduction,” he said. 

Mr. Giardina criticized the town board’s land acquisition efforts. “When we buy land and we’re starting to knock down houses . . . I question that,” he said. “There are at least 60 lots in the Amagansett area alone that could be used for watershed protection.” They have been identified to the board, Mr. Larsen added, “and they’ve done nothing.”

Watershed properties and aquifer recharge zones are in fact a top priority of the C.P.F., Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “We’ve had a very active and successful acquisition program over the last four years, acquiring hundreds of acres. Yes, our opponents are saying we’re taking down houses. But most of those houses never should have been built where they were built. They were sitting in marshland.” Buying parcels and razing the structures on them provides “an opportunity to restore habitat. . . . That’s a part of that whole program, to identify specific watersheds, which we’ve mapped already, and made a priority to buy those properties.”

Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, a Democrat seeking re-election, noted the town’s acquisition of 30 parcels around Lake Montauk and 38 in Springs. “We’ve made it a priority to purchase properties along the water.” She also pointed to $650,000 in grant money awarded to the town for individual watershed projects in Springs. “We’re going to be seeing more of that,” she said. “Our shellfish hatchery got a $400,000 grant from New York State to grow out more shellfish,” which will help filter excess nutrients from the water, she said. 

Mr. Giardina said that the town needs a professional engineer and staff to “make sure that we can put together watershed protection districts around our 10 watersheds that will deal with the septic issues in each of the 10. What’s good for Accabonac Harbor, which is getting loaded with a lot of septic waste, may not be good for Georgica, which may be getting a lot of lawn fertilizer runoff from mansions,” he said.

Mr. Van Scoyoc took exception to Mr. Giardina’s assertion. “I think we have an incredible staff,” he said, “particularly the Natural Resources Department headed by Kim Shaw, who has secured millions of dollars’ worth of grant funding to move forward on our issues and goals.”

Jeffrey Bragman, Peter Van Scoyoc, and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez defended the East Hampton Town Board’s record on environmental issues and spoke of their plans for the town. Durell Godfrey