Town Trustees Seek Tougher Penalty

“The way the code is written, it’s a violation, so you have to be seen to be caught,”
Napeague Harbor shoreline David E. Rattray

    The East Hampton Town Trustees plan to seek a change in the town code so that anyone breaching a designated “special district,” such as the shellfish sanctuary in Napeague Harbor, is charged with a misdemeanor rather than a simple violation as at present.

    At their last meeting of 2013, on Tuesday, the trustees continued to express frustration over a November incident in which buoys delineating the 8,000-square-foot sanctuary’s perimeter were dragged aside and the bottomland uprooted. The contents of the sanctuary — scallops, bug scallops, oysters, and eelgrass — had vanished by the time John Dunne, director of the town shellfish hatchery, discovered the apparent vandalism on Nov. 15. The hatchery had implemented the project with the consent and assistance of the trustees.

    “The way the code is written, it’s a violation, so you have to be seen to be caught,” Diane McNally, the trustee clerk, told her colleagues.

    John Courtney, trustee attorney, called attention to what he said was a peculiarity in the law. “The penalty is what determines [whether something is] a misdemeanor or not. I’m taken aback here. Why is it that you don’t have to see somebody to be able to charge them with a misdemeanor, and you do to charge them with a violation? The violation is a lesser offense. It doesn’t make any sense.”

    Joe Bloecker, an outgoing trustee, had proposed at the trustees’ last meeting that trespassers caught in a sanctuary have their shellfishing licenses revoked for one year. On Tuesday, he asked to modify that proposal. “This is something we’ve identified, and the people of the town are really upset by this situation,” he said. “Right now, we have public support to do something on this. I made a motion last week and I would be very happy to amend that motion to put ‘misdemeanor’ as well.”

    “I’ve had this problem all year long with poaching oysters,” said Nat Miller, a trustee and bayman. “You call marine patrol and the people leave. This drives me nuts.”

    Debbie Klughers, a trustee, said she had even shown photographs of violators to marine patrol officers, “and they’ve told me, ‘We can’t help you.’ ”
    “I knew this was going to happen,” Mr. Miller said of the scallop sanctuary incident, likening the seeding of the sanctuaries in Napeague and Three Mile Harbors to “filling up a gas tank with a hole in the bottom.”

    Ms. McNally promised to send a memorandum to the town board asking it to amend the shellfish code. “And John and I will meet with the harbormaster to see if we can get an answer to this violation-misdemeanor stuff,” she said.”

    “You’ve really got to catch somebody and make an extreme example of them,” Mr. Miller said, “which we’re trying to do.”

    Also at the meeting, Ms. Klughers informed her colleagues that the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program is seeking proposals that reduce communities’ vulnerability to storms, sea-level rise, flooding, and erosion through strengthening natural ecosystems. A project to restore eelgrass habitat and coastal dunes will be implemented by the Marine Meadows Initiative of the Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension next year.

    “They want to know if the trustees are interested in being partners with Cornell on the project,” Ms. Klughers said. “They want our support by allowing them to use our properties.” She suggested that the trustees solicit public participation in the project, adding that officials of the grant program would like to deliver a presentation at the trustees’ Jan. 14  meeting. “I think it’s not something we’d want to pass on — to get beach grass and eelgrass planted at no cost.”

    The meeting began with the presentation of a donation to the trustees from Citizens for Access Rights, which advocates for public access to beaches. “This is from the hundreds of CfAR members and our supporters,” said Tim Taylor, the group’s president. “It’s on behalf of our supporters and members that we are proud to present another check for $5,000 to the East Hampton Town Trustees. We would like to thank the trustee board for the positions they’ve taken — they’re not always popular.”

    Mr. Bloecker and Lynn Mendelman did not run for re-election and were attending their final meeting as trustees. “We can’t thank you both enough for the time, energy, and expertise you’ve offered to East Hampton Town for a lot of years,” Ms. McNally said. “It’s very much appreciated by a lot of people, and we’ll miss you.”

    “The last eight years have been a learning experience,” Ms. Mendelman said. “The town I live in — there are so many layers the public can’t see.”

    “Being a trustee has been one of the thrills of my life,” Mr. Bloecker said, “and I appreciate all you fine people and the work you do. I know you’re going to continue it well.”

    Stephanie Forsberg also thanked her colleagues. “But most importantly, I want to thank our clerk for an amazing year,” she said to Ms. McNally. “A very busy year, but your work does not go unnoticed. You put in more hours than anyone will ever give you credit for — except this board. Thank you.”