The current board of nine East Hampton Town Trustees has faced serious threats to its autonomy from both nature and residents of oceanfront property. Both have taken, or sought to take, beaches that the trustees are sworn to protect for the public.
The trustees have drawn their line in the sand by defending their autonomy in State Supreme Court, and through strict adherence to their own rules in reviewing applications for shoreside structures as well as use of the town’s bottomlands.
The trustees, Diane McNally, presiding officer, Stephanie Talmage-Forsberg, deputy clerk, Tim Bock, Joe Bloecker, John Gosman, Lynn Mendelman, Billy Vorpahl, Bill Mott, and Kayla Talmage, have also pushed for maintenance dredging of inlets and for the use of dredged sand to rebuild beaches. Mr. Vorpahl, who was appointed to the board when Norman Edwards Jr. died, is not running for office this time around. Nor are Mr. Mott, who is seeking a seat on the East Hampton Town Board, and Ms. Talmage.
Trustees serve two year-terms and all nine trustee positions are up this year. Newcomers seeking the position this year are three Republicans, Kevin Byrne, Nat Miller, and Sean McCaffrey, and on the Democratic ticket Ray Hartjen, Nanci LaGarenne, Sima Freierman, John Chimples, Rona Klopman, Sam Kramer, Loretta Sears, Stephen Lester (a former trustee), and Deborah Klughers.
This article introduces the non-incumbents, lists their reasons for running, and examines their primary concerns. In general, the Republican challengers seemed of a mind with their incumbent counterparts stressing the protection of beach access. The Democrat challengers voiced support for trustees protecting beach access, although a few saw the need for a change in the trustees’ administrative approach, and a loosening of the board’s strict doc-
trine. One Democrat would like to
increase the board’s educational role.
Ray Hartjen of Springs said, “If I got in I’d help expedite applications. It took a neighbor six months to have his application processed. In that time, every bit of wave action was washing away his property.” Mr. Hartjen said the process was slow and needlessly expensive for applicants.
“It’s time for a change, and if I got in and got some momentum I would assign the same type of camera to trustees, and a video system, so that when we discussed something we’re not passing around a cellphone.” Mr. Hartjen added that he would work to have sand dredged from the mouth of Accabonac Harbor placed on eroded beaches to the “end of Springs-Fireplace Road.”
Sima Freierman ran the commercial shipping dock at the Inlet Seafood company in Montauk for a number of years. She is well acquainted with fisheries issues. “I’ve sat on town and county committees. I’m not green to the politics that go into it. I would come to it in a proactive way. What that means is I would make a tour of properties [whose owners were applying to the trustees] with an eye to how they interrelate to the ecosystem, make a thorough inventory of what’s taking place. We should know what to expect will happen and not wait, ask where we can we head this off.” As an example, Ms. Freierman said the lawsuit brought against the trustees by oceanfront property owners on Napeague might have been avoided — “Why did it get to the point that a state judge has to decide a question of access?” she asked — a question on the minds of other Democrat candidates.
John Chimples is a filmmaker and a resident of Montauk, where the trustees have no authority, although their marine sewage pumpout boat operates in Montauk Harbor, and where eroding beaches are a primary concern. Mr. Chimples said he grew up in Philadelphia, and started surfing in southern New Jersey, where a series of jetties “destroyed the beaches.”
“I worry about hardened structures. It will becom e more and more an issue as erosion encroaches on people’s land.” Mr. Chimples has been on the board of directors of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk and the hamlet’s citizens advisory committee. “I think the trustees do a good job of protecting and nurturing the culture here. I want to expand my reach and make as much of an impact as possible to protect what I love.”
Nanci LaGarenne serves on the Freetown Neighborhood Advisory committee and has fought the construction of a condominium complex and sewage treatment plant in the neighborhood. She said she was an activist, although not one who was looking for a “political career.” She said she was “passionate about safe drinking water and about beach access.”
Rona Klopman was critical of Ms. Mendelman for having an alleged “conflict of interest” in matters regarding dredging in Three Mile Harbor. The Mendelman family owns and operates marinas in the harbor. She also faulted Mr. Gosman for “sleeping” in meetings. “I don’t know why he’s bothering to run.” Ms. Klopman also criticized the current board for ignoring people concerned about erosion at Lazy Point. “I began seeing people coming from Lazy Point and shunted aside. The trustees were not helping.” She said the trustees should have a liaison to the town board who regularly attended meetings, and she said she thought trustee meetings should be televised.
Ms. Klughers of Springs has a background in marine and environmental studies. “I would bring good environmental stewardship to the table, and I would push to buy a dredge to make sure maintaining inlets was done in a timely basis.” She said she was not an environmental zealot. “I would look at the people and the economics, too.” Ms. Klughers said the trustees had an important role in educating the children of East Hampton and that she would work to improve the board in this area. Ms. Klughers films public meetings for LTV. She said her work has kept her well informed.
Mr. Kramer is a lawyer from East Hampton who specializes in litigation. “You only litigate as a last resort. No way that should have become a lawsuit,” he said, referring to the controversy over beach driving and parking on Napeague that led to homeowners suing the trustees two years ago. “If I had been in the room, I would have done anything not to go to court.”
Mr. Kramer said the current trustee board stressed the body’s autonomy too much. “There are other forces out there. You’re not going to carry the day if you rest on ‘we are the trustees.’ What if someone with $50 million says to [fellow oceanfront dwellers] let’s try something different?” [Please see related comment below]
“I’m not running to be the board’s lawyer, but they should have at least one trustee who understands what they’re doing. I’m worried in dealing with the town, the [State Department of Environmental Conservation], and other entities the board deals with, where to press the buttons, how far you can go, and where it’s worth fighting over. Ninety-eight percent of all litigations wind up getting settled.”
Mr. Kramer described himself as a quick study and protective of baymen and their ability to make a living. He served on the East Hampton Town Planning Board for a couple of years. “I’m not a one-issue candidate.”
“I’m third generation out here,” said Ms. Sears, who lives in East Hampton. “I love the outdoors, the beach, fishing. I love the tradition and want to keep this place the way it’s meant to be.” Ms. Sears said that during the winter months she rented David Talmage’s house. Mr. Talmage served as trustee clerk at one time. She said the Talmage library had books of old town records. “It fascinated me.”
Striking a similar note was Mr. Miller, a bayman from East Hampton who tends three traps, gillnets, and fishes for scallops during the winter months.
“When people talk about the beach — I grew up on the beaches. If I don’t do it, who’s going to?” he said of protecting public access to the beaches. “I married out here and want to have our kids here. Seeing all the development, if one domino falls, they all will fall,” he said, referring to the beach-access lawsuit.
“It’s why the beach suit is so important. It’s got to stop now,” he said of encroachment on public beaches by private interests. “Some people see the trustees as a political stepping stone. I don’t. I’m the one who knows where that sand flat is. It’s a different kind of outlook,” Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Byrne, who lives in Springs, is a case worker with the County Department of Social Services. At first, he said his interest in running stemmed from the beach access issue, but after attending trustee meetings it grew. “With my work, I see a lot of every town and every hamlet farther west. It’s made me appreciative of East Hampton. I think being a case worker would help in the fieldwork involved with the trustees, working with the public. I would hit the ground running.”
He said he preferred the soft approach to erosion control, “but I understand if there’s imminent danger, I would not be reluctant to mininmize risk. It’s what I do for a living.” Mr. Byrne disagreed with the criticism that the board delayed the application process. “The biggest delays I see are when people don’t submit what they are asked to. When the trustees have what they need, they act.” Mr. Byrne said he would like to see better enforcement of trustee regulations by the town’s code enforcement office, “with penalties that make people accountable.”
Sean McCaffrey, a candidate on the Republican side, said he was strongly influenced to run by his late father, Jim McCaffrey, who served as trustee clerk, or presiding officer. “I know what’s happened to these lands and would like to be a part of trying to keep them. My dad worked hard to keep the trustees a separate form of government. I’d love to be able to help. There’s always somebody trying to erode them.”