Mending Fences After Hole Dug

Town, county near agreement to resolve Rte. 114 sump and flooding issues

       The  resolution of a problem caused  when East Hampton Town began to build a sump on farmland along Route 114, allowing farm soils to be trucked away, maybe forthcoming, Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc reported this week.

       The project, under former Councilwoman Theresa Quigley’s oversight, was an effort to address severe flooding in nearby neighborhoods. It was commenced without county and State Department of Environmental Conservation permits, and was halted some time ago after the county learned of it and objected, but not before a deep hole had been dug and the soil hauled away.

       The county owns the development rights on the property, and the project should have been vetted by a county farmland committee. When the town asked retroactively for the county’s permission, that permission was not forthcoming.

       The site, which is surrounded by a chain-link fence, has been untouched since the county put the town on notice that, should the matter not be satisfactorily resolved, East Hampton could be sued for violating its farmland preservation program. Councilman Van Scoyoc has been working to soothe ruffled feathers.

       The détente resulted in a plan that has initial acceptance from the county and will result in at least a partial solution to the nearby flooding, Mr. Van Scoyoc said at a town board meeting on Tuesday.

       “All along I’ve insisted that we address the flooding problems,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. And, he said, both the town and the county agreed that the land should remain farmable.

       Under the aborted plan approved by the previous board majority, a 12-foot water catchment basin was created, which eliminated the ability for a farmer to till the property.

       Regrading of about half the dug-out area will create a swale that can still be farmed once it is replenished with good soil, Mr. Van Scoyoc said.

       Pursuant to a contract approved by the previous board, Keith Grimes, the contractor hired for the job at $293,000, was given the soil dug out of the original hole, and it was carted off.

       At the time, the board majority rejected the option of having Mr. Grimes spread the excavated farm soils around the site, which would have cost $28,000 more. An engineering company was paid $35,100 for the project design.

       Mr. Van Scoyoc’s negotiations with county officials “really centered on the amount of prime agricultural soils that were removed from the site,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. It was “a major bone of contention with the county and the farmland committee.”

       To compensate, he said, the town would commit to a future purchase for preservation of farmland or farm development rights — something already on the agenda, Mr. Van Scoyoc said.

       Under the new proposal, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, a new, six-and-a-half-foot-deep sump will retain runoff from the field, stopping it from spilling across Route 114 and causing flooding. It will hold about 40 percent less water than the original basin, the councilman said, but run-off containment work being done by the county along Long Lane, at the other side of the field, will improve the overall situation. The plan, he said, “greatly reduces the possibility of there being severe flooding.”

       The efforts of Mr. Van Scoyoc and others who helped broker the solution were acknowledged Tuesday by Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who thanked the councilman for “facing an angry farmland committee.”

       The extent of the breach was made apparent last fall in online comments by Sarah Lansdale, the county’s director of planning. The town, she said, “blatantly caused extensive damage to farmland,” and “unlawfully violated a piece of preserved property.” Allowing Mr. Grimes to sell the agricultural soil, which Ms. Lansdale called “the ‘Cadillac’ of soil,” only made matters worse, she said, as did the “hostile manner” in which town officials at the time responded to the county’s concerns.

       “They had their pitchforks,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday. He was authorized by the board to formally submit the negotiated plan for county approval.