Trash and the Town

A quality-of-life apocalypse

It is surprising that the big story of the summer of 2015 was not a celebrity drunken-driving arrest or a devastating fire but instead the summer itself. East Hampton Town — and Montauk in particular — hit some kind of tipping point by the Fourth of July, and residents had had enough. They packed a July 14 town board meeting, demanding action on a host of complaints, including nightlife, litter, traffic, and taxis. It was enough to drive the fight about noise from the East Hampton Airport or whether the town had intentionally banned the car service Uber out of the news for weeks on end.

The season’s quality-of-life apocalypse reached The New York Times, which asked a top reporter, who had just come off producing a widely celebrated story on the 50-year assault on the federal Voting Right Act, to take a look. Jim Rutenberg likened the changes here to a through-the-looking-glass manifest destiny as a “new horde of speculators” rushed east to cash in — or spend wildly in a determined show of wealth. Things got so bad that the local Republicans, until only recently the party that could be counted on to look the other way when business interests were at play, began to call for a hard line.

As July gave way to August, the atmosphere began to shift. More intense enforcement by officials resulted in a storm of citations for a range of offenses. Among them was a clampdown on hotel fitness classes organized without proper town approvals. Then, it was garbage that drew attention, notably at the beaches and reaching a crescendo on the first morning of this month when early visitors to the Navy Road beach in Montauk were horrified at the remains of a bacchanal staged by a restaurant and nightspot’s staff. Beer, food, and wine lay strewn across several tables. If ever there was a single symbol of the disrespect with which some people treat this place this was it. The restaurant’s public relations team sprang into action, though by then outrage was widespread.

Trash at the beaches, trash on the beaches, and trashy behavior everywhere might well be the epitaph for the summer just past. Who’s to say what 2016 will bring.