A New Leaf For Town Trustees

A decidedly different tack

The East Hampton Town Trustees have faced the tensions of going it alone instead of cooperating with a number of other government agencies for a long time. The idea, still in currency among some members and residents, has been that since the trustees were given authority by royal decree in the 17th century, no entity can take it away. In modern times this has meant the trustees have been loath to seek permission from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for projects that otherwise were in its jurisdiction.

Sometimes this has led to awkward situations in which the trustees, needing something from the D.E.C., chose to have someone in Town Hall handle the asking. It also has created puzzling situations, for example, when the D.E.C. bans shellfish harvesting in trustees’ waters and the trustees stay silent and go along. Casual observers would be right to wonder about this contradiction in policy as well as the longstanding initiatives that were delayed because of the one-sided impasse. Since January, however, the new, recently elected trustee majority has taken a decidedly different tack.

The challenges facing the town’s waterways and beaches, many of which the trustees own on behalf of the public, are many and growing, it seems, with every season. Large houses along the shores of some of the town’s most economically productive harbors and creeks bring with them increased septic effluent and, often, landscaping and driveway runoff. Greater residential and transient use add up to increased toxicity and excess nutrients in the watersheds. Climate change and sea level rise as well as new shellfish diseases and forms of predation are increasing too. And unlike only a couple of decades ago, it seems everybody has a four-wheeler and wants to drive on the beaches whenever and wherever they please. It is a lot for the trustees to control.

Times are different now, and no town agency can expect to go it alone. The D.E.C., the Suffolk Department of Health Services, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, for all their well-documented flaws, are a fact of regulatory life. It is necessary for the trustees to work with them more directly — even if the old guard objects.