No Clues in Sanctuary Vandalism

Trustees call it a $500,000-plus loss and urge stiffer penalties for violators

       In the wake of the apparent vandalism and dredging of the scallop sanctuary in Napeague Harbor, the East Hampton Town Trustees, who oversee the town’s beaches, waterways, and bottomlands on behalf of the public, considered seeking an amendment to the town code to increase penalties imposed on violators.

       At their meeting on Nov. 26, members of the board discussed a formal response to the incident, believed to have occurred on Nov. 14 or 15, in which buoys delineating the 8,000-square-foot sanctuary’s perimeter were dragged aside and the bottomland uprooted.

       Joe Bloecker, a trustee who filed a report with town police on Nov. 18, was still fuming about the incident last week. “This is a pretty big deal,” he told his colleagues, describing inquiries he had fielded from residents citing a report of the incident in the Nov. 21 edition of The Star. “People are not happy.”

       Mr. Bloecker pressed the board to take collective action in the form of steeper penalties in the town code’s shellfish regulations. “I know we’re not allowed to fine people. We don’t have that power, but we do have power over licensing, and I think that anybody who gets caught shellfishing in a sanctuary, whether they be commercial or [recreational], should lose their license for a year.”

       Violators, Mr. Bloecker said, are “taking out a bunch of people’s whole season’s pay by doing something like that. . . . I realize we have to send it up to the town board,” to be codified, “but I don’t think we can wait for them.” He described a one-year ban as “real punishment . . . something that’s going to hit a commercial guy really hard in the pocket, and hit a recreational guy in what he loves to do.”

       Lynn Mendelman, a trustee, said that the $3,400 market value of the lost scallops as estimated by John Dunne, the director of the town’s shellfish hatchery, in a letter published in The Star last week, significantly understated the magnitude of the loss. “This is a four-year federal grant that was matched by Suffolk County,” she said of the shellfish hatchery’s Bay Scallop Restoration Project. “Three hundred thousand dollars in the first grant [plus] $100,000 that was matched by the town. That’s $500,000-plus worth of time and effort that was wiped out.”

       What’s more, Mr. Bloecker said, “What has it done to the population of the scallops?” When he inspected the site, he said, “There was nothing in there — not a bug, there wasn’t a piece of eelgrass. All there was, was dredge marks.”

       Present code, said John Courtney, the trustees’ attorney, stipulates a six-month revocation of a commercial shellfishing permit for a first and second violation, and a one-year revocation for a third violation within an 18-month period.

       “But it doesn’t mention a sanctuary,” Mr. Bloecker said. “That’s the problem I have with it.”

       In considering the proposal to amend the town code, Mr. Courtney and Diane McNally, the trustees’ clerk, discussed the inclusion of language pertaining to specially designated areas, such as a shellfish sanctuary. Ms. McNally suggested “a further, strict, automatic revocation,” to which Mr. Bloecker proposed the yearlong duration for both commercial and recreational violators.

       Mr. Bloecker, who did not run for re-election and will leave the board at year’s end, asked his colleagues to attend any court hearings pertaining to such violations. Ms. McNally proposed a letter to the town attorney’s office asking that the trustees be notified when a shellfish violation is on the court’s schedule.

       “They could send us a copy of the charge they have against people,” Mr. Courtney said.

       Following the meeting, Ed Michels, the town harbormaster, suggested to Ms. McNally that a more effective way to amend the code would be to designate such an offense a misdemeanor, rather than a violation. “A violation is something that would have to be witnessed by an officer,” he said on Tuesday. Designating the breaching of a shellfish sanctuary a misdemeanor, he said, “would give us a little more horsepower when we’re looking at something.”

       On Monday, Ms. McNally said that the trustees would consider Mr. Michels’s suggestion and collectively approve the language of their proposed amendment before forwarding it to the town board.

       Mr. Michels reported no progress in his investigation of the incident at the scallop sanctuary. “I have yet to find anybody that was actually there,” he said. “There’s a million rumors running around, none of which do me any good.”