Town Stalls Again on Joining Estuary Group

    Approval of an agreement through which East Hampton Town would join forces with other East End municipalities to work together on water-quality protection issues, including those mandated by federal and state agencies, got put off for the second time at an East Hampton Town Board meeting on Tuesday.

    An initiative by Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc to have the board pass a resolution and become a participant in the group sparked a spat at a recent meeting after Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said the idea had not been properly vetted, and complained that Mr. Van Scoyoc had stepped into an area — natural resources — for which she is the board’s liaison. Mr. Van Scoyoc countered that the concept has long been on the board’s agenda and should no longer be put off.

    On Tuesday, the parameters of the proposal were described by several visitors asked to provide details, but not before Ms. Quigley revived the political tete-a-tete.

    Both she and Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said they had gone through records of board meetings and ascertained that the agreement had not been talked over by the board. “I went through — copiously — what would amount to two years of e-mails and meetings. . . .” Mr. Wilkinson said. Ms. Quigley said she listened to tapes online and scoured agendas from over three years to prove that she was right.

    She said that she had just received a copy of the six-page draft inter-municipal agreement, and “there is not a single meeting where we reviewed this document.”

    Mr. Van Scoyoc was absent from the meeting, but Councilwoman Sylvia Overby expressed frustration that the board had not embraced the inter-municipal effort.

    “I don’t understand the pushback,” Ms. Overby said. “In 2011, you were told of an inter-municipal agreement” in the works, she said to Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson, who were in office then, before Ms. Overby took a seat on the board.

    Ms. Quigley said she could agree in concept with the idea, and allow the town’s attorneys and other staff professionals to ensure that the details were acceptable. “I want the policy in front of me,” she said. “I don’t need to have the exact language.”

    Both Eileen Keenan, a program manager for the New York Sea Grant NEMO (Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials) program, and Alison Branco, a program director at the Peconic Estuary Program, were on hand. The NEMO program assists Long Island town officials with the federal and state requirements known as Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems, or MS4, and with natural resource protection. The Peconic Estuary Program has been coordinating the effort to have the towns and villages surrounding the estuary band together.

    To introduce the topic, Ms. Quigley gave her own overview of the town’s obligation under MS4.

    Ms. Keenan interjected. Besides Ms. Quigley’s misstating the name of the program, which Ms. Keenan did not mention, “there’s a basic very factual error in your presentation,” Ms. Keenan told Ms. Quigley. The MS4 requirements “are far more comprehensive and complex than was presented.”

    However, Ms. Quigley said, for the town board’s purposes, the gist of it is that because four water bodies within the town have been deemed “impaired” under state and federal guidelines, East Hampton must ensure that pollutants no longer enter those waters, and they must be “cleaned up.” The areas are Lake Montauk, Accabonac Harbor, Northwest Creek, and Georgica Pond.

    Ms. Branco said the proposed agreement between the municipalities calls for coordinated efforts not just for MS4 compliance, but on other water quality protection efforts.

    Annual dues would cover salary and administrative costs for a part-time coordinator. It is estimated that East Hampton’s share would be between $5,000 and $7,000. If the towns as a group apply for grants for agreed-upon projects, and matching funds are required, that amount would be added to the dues as well. Kim Shaw, East Hampton’s natural resources director, said that a grant could be available to cover that cost.

    A committee with representatives from each party that has signed on to the agreement would develop an annual scope of work, Ms. Branco said, and each municipality would have the opportunity to opt in or out for the year.

    So far, she said, the towns of Southold and Brookhaven have signed on. As in East Hampton, the agreement is still being discussed by legislative decisionmakers for Suffolk County, for Riverhead, Shelter Island, and Southampton Towns, the Villages of Greenport, North Haven, Sag Harbor, and Dering Harbor, and the State Department of Transportation.

    Similar joint efforts are underway by several groups of other municipalities across Long Island, she said. After Ms. Quigley expressed fears about a loss of local control, Ms. Branco said that once the group is set up, the only actions undertaken will be those agreed upon by the group.

    “The estuary program saw an opportunity to help the East End municipalities and waters,” said Ms. Branco, “by bringing municipalities to work together on stormwater.” In addition, she said, “There has been interest in expanding to other water quality issues . . . that are important to everyone,” such as wastewater, setbacks, etc., “because all share the same waters.”