It could have been an innocent mistake. The official map of the farmland where the Town of East Hampton began digging a drainage sump this summer — despite its development rights having being sold long ago to Suffolk County — is spread across two pages that are not contiguous. On one of them, only a portion of the large parcel is shown, with no hint that almost any change or construction would be restricted. On the other, the fact that the county is effectively a co-owner is clearly described. Perhaps when town officials awarded a $293,000 contract for the sump they had looked at only half the map. But even if this surmise is accurate, it is no way to do the public’s business.
This matter, in which the town hired one of the supervisor’s cronies to dig a pit intended to control flooding of Route 114 and adjacent streets just south of Stephen Hand’s Path, has turned out to be an embarrassment for Town Hall and throws the competence of those involved into question.
Work was halted suddenly when the county objected. The trucks disappeared, though not before they had carted away almost all of the roughly 1.2-acre sump site’s prime farm soil for the contractor’s own purposes. And don’t believe assertions that the land was not farmed because of silt problems; as recently as last season potatoes were planted there. We know this because we went gleaning on the land ourselves in the fall.
Now the town is left with the difficult question of what to do, having destroyed a portion, albeit a small one, of farmland the taxpayers paid to preserve. By itself, this debacle would not amount to much, but, once again, it points to a breakdown in town leadership. There have been far too many other examples, most coming from the office of the town supervisor or his deputy, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley.
It was Ms. Quigley who handled the drainage project, and, as a lawyer and lawmaker, her failure to notice the county’s interest is unacceptable. That the pages of the official map of the acreage are not consecutive may be an explanation, but it is no excuse. Longtime town employees, with experience and institutional memory, should be consulted when such projects are under consideration, and every “I” dotted and “T” crossed. The cowboy, go-it-alone approach must end — and soon.