Sad Day For Shadmoor

Josh Lawrence | October 10,1996

Two million dollars earmarked to preserve Montauk's Shadmoor property was cut out of the Federal budget last week, despite more than a year of lobbying to obtain the funds. The cut jeopardizes efforts to purchase the sensitive oceanfront land before it is developed.

In a Senate-House budget conference, $2 million specifically bound for Shadmoor was usurped to fund a larger purchase of Sterling Forest, a 20,000-acre watershed area on the New York-New Jersey border.

"It was not a happy Monday for me," said Stuart Lowrie, the director of the Nature Conservancy's Peconic Bioreserve. "I was hoping for better news." The Nature Conservancy has been spearheading efforts to preserve the 98-acre property, along with the East End's Congressman, Michael P. Forbes, who helped get the Federal dollars into the budget.

Vying For Dollars

As part of an omnibus parks bill adopted by Congress last Thursday, $17.5 million was authorized toward Sterling Forest. The funding comes at the expense of Shadmoor and several other smaller projects all vying for limited money from the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The Nature Conservancy had counted on the $2 million as the building block in a partnership among the Conservancy, East Hampton Town, and the Fish and Wildlife Service that would negotiate an acquisition.

With the Federal money gone, a purchase may not be possible before the bulldozers arrive. Shadmoor's owners, Robert Bear and Peter Schub, have been willing to sell the property for conservation, but they are unlikely to put their long-planned subdivision on hold while other funding sources are sought.

Prefer Conservation

The Town Planning Board has already agreed conceptually with the subdivision plan and accepted a lengthy environmental impact statement. Mr. Bear and Mr. Schub propose to split the parcel into four large lots. In the process, public access to the property would be lost and two historic, World War II-era bunkers would be removed.

"Like me, the owners have a long-term view for the property," said Mr. Lowrie, who spoke with them after the news of the funding cut. "They've had this property for 15 years now. They would prefer to make a conservation sale, but, like any good businessmen, if it doesn't look likely, they want to make a return by selling individual lots."

"The feeling," Mr. Lowrie continued, "is they're going to go forward with all the speed necessary [to get subdivision approval], and their understanding is that we'll go ahead with all the speed we can in bringing to them a fair-market offer."

Down The Road

Subdivision approval is still far down the road. A formal application with final maps, drainage plans, easements, and other specifics has not yet been submitted. Additionally, the Town Zoning Board of Appeals must grant a natural resources permit for the subdivision road, which would abut wetlands.

Lisa Liquori, the town's planning director, said it was hard to estimate how long the process would take, but "it's certainly unlikely to happen before the end of the year." Much of it depends on the speed of the applicants, she said, noting a lot of the work had already been done.

"The best option for the property would be for it to be acquired," said Ms. Liquori. "But if it doesn't get purchased. . . the town and the Planning Board have done everything we could to get a good subdivision plan, and we'll help in that process."

Appeal To Babbitt

Mr. Lowrie said the Nature Conservancy would appeal to the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, for funding through the Land and Water Conservation Fund's emergency account. "We're still exploring other avenues to get Federal funding," he said.

Senator Alfonse D'Amato has also given assurances that Shadmoor would be returned to the budget next year, Mr. Lowrie said. In the meantime, the Nature Conservancy will also seek funds through the state's proposed $1.75 billion Clean Air/Clean Water Bond Act. The bond act is up for a referendum vote next month, as is East Hampton Town's proposed $5 million open space bond issue.

The Nature Conservancy this week criticized the administration of the Water Conservation Fund, saying not enough of it was being used for its main intent - land acquisition - and that the lack of funds encouraged needless competition between equally important projects.

At Others' Expense

"Sadly, the 'victory' for Sterling Forest comes at the needless expense of other critically imperiled wild areas in our region," wrote Sara Davison, the executive director of the Nature Conservancy's South Fork-Shelter Island Chapter, in a letter to this week's Star.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is a trust fund that is fed through royalties collected from offshore oil concessions. Of the $900 million available from the fund this year, only roughly $150 million was allotted for land acquisition, divided between four agencies. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was allotted $44.5 million for the coming year.