Nature Notes: Back Scratching

One of the turbines that is part of the Block Island Wind Farm Dai Dayton

Brrrr. We knew that the mild weather wouldn’t last. So here we are shivering our timbers and wondering what comes next. Then, however, March is only a month away. Let’s hope it’s a pleasant one.

These are the doldrums, but without summer’s traffic and with a large number of snowbirds having gone south, one has to be extremely watchful. There’s always someone in the wings trying to pull something over on when a lot of people are just trying to stay warm and the environment is hibernating. 

The best way to get their attention is with sops, the kind of sops that we are seeing more and more of as Long Island maxes out and is beginning to lose it.

Sops are as old as mankind, but it is only recently that sops in the form of large offers of dough-re-me have entered into the political workings of the East End. The phrase “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” has been part of doing business for thousands upon thousands of years. But, as measured in dollars and cents, it has not been a significant part of doing planning and zoning business here on the South Fork.

For example, an out-of-town corporation called Orsted U.S. Offshore Wind, formerly Deepwater Wind, is offering the leaders of East Hampton Town a package of such monetary sops — large sums of money for this and that town improvement in the hope that those leaders will continue to look favorably upon what they are trying to sell, in this case a package of elixirs called offshore wind turbines. The company assures our leaders again and again that these several-hundred-foot-tall statues with immense twirling blades, once installed in our offshore fishing grounds, will send an everlasting supply of electricity through an underwater tube that will come ashore in Wainscott and then go inland to connect with the electrical grid.

Some sopified members of the town board and town trustees seem to have fallen for these add-ons, notwithstanding that the turbines as seen in the original presentation have gotten larger. 

One of the longest standing political leaders in the South Fork community, however, is not so easily swayed and has just put his foot firmly down, saying, “Enough is enough!” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who has been a town supervisor and a member of the Suffolk County Legislature, however, before becoming an assemblyman, and has always been a leader in protecting our rural environment, has turned against the offshore wind plan. As it turns out, sops in lamb’s clothing are often wolves.

Not only has Mr. Thiele rejected the sop packages attendant on the Deepwaterl/Orsted offering, he has joined in a suit against another out-of-town company that has offered even a bigger package of sops to the town of Southampton and its hamlet East Quogue, first in the form of a golf course in a large water recharge area, and second in the form of a subdivision and 18-hole golf course in the same spot. 

As you may have read in the local weeklies, East Quogue’s private water wells are already suffering serious contamination from fire-retardant foam chemicals. I ask you, would a golf course and 114 pricey residences not make the situation worse? It certainly would seem so. Three Southampton Town Board members, Democrats, have resisted, while the supervisor, also a Democrat, and the other board member, a Republican, appear to be for it.

Why all of these big sop offers here? One would think that sops in the form of large amounts of money for developmental favors would have no standing as far as the formal and lawful approval of land developments are concerned. Local laws should proscribe such offers, which seem out-and-out bribes on the face of it. In the 28 years that I served East Hampton, its various boards and staff, we never received offers of money for this or that subdivision approval or for this or that wetland permit. However, it is not only on the South Fork that monetary sop offers are gaining prominence; western Suffolk County and Nassau County are already sop ridden, as it would seem from reading Newsday and watching Long Island’s news every day.

So what should we immediately do to protect our natural resources? In my opinion, we should side with Fred Thiele and not be seduced by such offers. If Long Island’s native peoples had been fairly represented before turning over thousands and thousands of acres for a pitiful sop in the form of a handful of coins, tools, and whatnots 300 years and more ago, they would be in a much better stead now, and would not have to beg to be recognized.

Larry Penny can be reached via email at