New East Hampton Supervisor Outlines 2018 Goals

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc was sworn in at Town Hall on Tuesday. T.E. McMorrow

The mood was jubilant at East Hampton Town Hall on Tuesday morning as a new town board was sworn in along with several other officials, following an election that saw Democrats complete a near-sweep of the town’s governing bodies and agencies.

Remarks delivered by Peter Van Scoyoc, the new supervisor, clearly aimed to demonstrate continuity with the board that was led by his predecessor, Larry Cantwell, who has retired after more than four decades in public service. Touching on the issues that have dominated the Town Hall agenda in recent years, Mr. Van Scoyoc, who defeated his Republican challenger with almost 63 percent of the vote in November, expressed humility and gratitude to voters for his election. He pledged to be open to new ideas and tolerant of differences and encouraged others to follow suit.

“We must engage in constructive and civil dialogue while respecting each other’s views. . . . We must care for the most vulnerable among us, and work constructively in the best interest of all,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc, who was elected while serving a second term on the town board.

The new town board will appoint his replacement in the coming weeks, and in November a special election will be held, with the winner serving the final year of Mr. Van Scoyoc's term. Mr. Van Scoyoc was deputy supervisor under Mr. Cantwell. On Tuesday, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who is serving her second four-year term, was named deputy supervisor.

Looking ahead, the new supervisor said that protecting and improving water quality is foremost among the town’s challenges. “The water we depend on is underfoot,” he said. “We must tread lightly, be mindful of the fact that what we do on the land has a direct and significant impact on the quality of our water.” Referring to the recent discovery of contaminated wells in Wainscott, he said that the town will continue to work with state and Suffolk agencies and officials to determine its source.

The nascent effort to combat nitrogen leakage into aquifers and surface waters, which is blamed for harmful algal blooms that impact marine life, will continue, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. To reverse this phenomenon, the town is offering septic rebates of up to $16,000, funded by the community preservation fund, to replace residential and commercial waste treatment systems with low-nitrogen systems. As of Monday, he noted, the town requires low-nitrogen systems for all new construction and substantial renovations.

The effort to improve water quality will involve open space acquisition and habitat restoration, including community oyster gardens, he said, with the town's preservation fund again the source of funding. “My administration will work hard to preserve and protect our water,” he said.

Bigger-picture issues include coastal erosion and sea level rise. The second phase of the Coastal Assessment and Resiliency Plan study, following the initial assessment phase, will see the development of “strategies to help us adapt to our changing surroundings and to be proactive rather than reactive in addressing the impending impacts,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, pledging to push the federal government to deliver a sand-only beach replenishment project in downtown Montauk under the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation study, or FIMP. “This will allow us the time we need to accomplish implementation of CARP’s strategic planning effort,” he said.

The new town board will continue its support of the South Fork Wind Farm, a proposed installation to be constructed some 30 miles east of Montauk that could be operational late in 2022. The board’s goal to achieve all of the town’s electricity needs through renewable sources by 2020 -- announced in 2014 but one it has acknowledged will not be met -- remains in place, the supervisor said. The board will pursue solar energy production on town-owned properties and incorporate solar panels on town buildings whenever possible, he said.

The town will invest in energy-efficient technology, including the retrofitting of streetlights in downtown Montauk with LED fixtures, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. A transition to electric vehicles and the installation of more electric vehicle charging stations will reduce energy consumption, toxic emissions, and costs, he said.

The town’s history and traditions must also be preserved, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, pointing to public access to waterways as a primary concern. “Our town was founded with the provision that our town’s beaches, bays, bottomlands, trails, and ancient roadways are to be forever held in common to the benefit of all,” he said, to a cry of “Yeah!” from the audience. The town will protect and expand these rights through appropriate land acquisition and preservation, he said.

A new threat, he said, is opioid addiction, and the town’s youth must be safeguarded through a concerted, joint effort with schools and community groups.

The supervisor acknowledged the scarcity of affordable housing, which he called a challenge for young people, working families, and senior citizens. Congested roadways and understaffed volunteer fire departments and businesses are among the consequences of exorbitant real estate valuations and the high cost of living, he said. The 12 units comprising the Manor House project on Accabonac Road in East Hampton, and a plan to begin construction of 48 more units in the town, represent a start in addressing the critical shortage, he said.

Also under consideration are infrastructure projects including construction of a new senior citizens center on the site of the existing center, on Springs-Fireplace Road in East Hampton, which he said would allow additional programs and services. A plan to consolidate the town’s work force by moving employees from the offices at 300 Pantigo Place to the Town Hall campus will be reviewed at the town board’s Jan. 16 work session. The building at 300 Pantigo Place will eventually be sold to help offset the plan’s costs, he said; a $500,000 grant for this purpose is already in hand.

“We have made great strides in addressing quality of life issues, such as overcrowded housing, over-occupancy in nightspots, and illegal rentals,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “But continued vigilance is required.” He pledged to coordinate with the town’s Code Enforcement, Building, and Police Departments, along with the fire marshal and town attorney’s office, to achieve full compliance with the code.

The town is moving forward with an analysis, known as a Part 161 study, that airports must perform when proposing noise or operational restrictions on aircraft, an effort to enact control over the aircraft noise that “has long disrupted the peace and tranquillity” of residents, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. Several in attendance murmured "Yes" in response. The effort will be lengthy and expensive, he said, but the airport fund, which is derived from landing fees and leases at East Hampton Airport, will absorb the cost.

The town’s finances are “on solid ground,” the new supervisor said, and the town recently achieved the highest credit rating in its history. “Our goal will be to stay within our budget, reduce overall indebtedness, and increase efficiency,” while remaining under the state-imposed 2-percent tax cap, he said.

“I’m confident that together we can rise to meet any challenge and reach any goal,” the supervisor said. “As supervisor of the Town of East Hampton I look forward to working with all of our residents in serving East Hampton, a place like no other I know.”