Some 120 acres of undeveloped land across multiple parcels in Montauk are coming up for possible purchase by the Town of East Hampton and there are some deals in the pipeline or already inked, using money from the community preservation fund transfer tax. The properties are most, if not all, part of the Lake Montauk watershed, which is the focus of an important environmental-protection effort.
Lake Montauk was permanently opened to the flow of the tides in the 1920s when the Carl Fisher company set about developing it as a key feature of its resort. Two long stone jetties, which reach into Block Island Sound, do their best to keep the lake’s narrow connection to the deep, refreshing waters open. But since the lake is loaded with marinas and commercial enterprises and is ringed with houses, it is little surprise that pollution is a problem. Parts of the lake are closed to swimming and shellfishing on a permanent basis, and seasonal tests have indicated high levels of bacterial contamination in other locations.
Buying and neutralizing as many of the vacant parcels around the lake as possible is just the first part of a long campaign. The authors of a recent report prepared at the behest of the East Hampton Town Board have said that water testing must be increased and the noxious contribution of the many, mostly residential, septic systems quantified. Following that, the town might provide cash incentives, low-cost loans, or tax breaks for sanitary system upgrades.
The health of the lake is not simply an indulgence; environmental quality has long been understood as a key component of East Hampton Town’s attractiveness to second-home owners and short-term visitors, both of whom are economically crucial. And now that at least two companies, a successful oyster-growing concern and another just getting started, are growing food in the lake itself, there is added incentive to get it right.
Helping save the lake through aggressive land purchases is a great start, but, as the report’s authors said, it is only the first salvo in an ongoing campaign.