One of the weirder disputes to bubble up in the lengthy history of animus between the East Hampton Town Trustees and the town board came to light two weeks ago with the disclosure that Town Hall had sent the trustees a bill for cutting up and hauling away a dead whale after it washed up on the beach on Jan. 13. Though the affair is odd at several levels, it may have a hidden benefit for the trustees, one that may make them actually eager to cover the $7,500 cost even though they had nothing to do with it.
The beef is over who authorized removal of the stinking, 58-foot carcass. The trustees said they were not consulted. It turned out that someone else, perhaps in the town’s Highway or Police Department, gave a local land-moving contractor the green light to take on the heavy job. According to one of the trustees, a different company, with whom they had already been doing business, had offered to do the deed without charge.
Just why Town Hall thought it had the responsibility to deal with the problem in the first place is a bit of a mystery. Finback whales are federally protected, and this particular one came to rest on the tidal portion of the beach, placing it within state jurisdiction.
So, was the cost of disposing of that whale Albany’s or Washington’s problem? It’s difficult to say. The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Law prohibits the possession of whale parts. And, as an animal on the endangered species list, its ignominious end, at an out-of-town garbage incinerator, might have raised questions. At least the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, which acts as the feds’ representative in such matters here, should have straightened out who would be handed the tab before its team left the beach.
All of the foregoing aside, the payoff for the trustees is that by handing them the bill, Town Hall is further acknowledging their proprietary ownership of the ocean beach. And that may well be worth the money.