News of the huge state fine levied on a Montauk marina owner and his contractor for illegal dredging is a serious reminder about wetlands protection. In a recent settlement, Rick Gibbs of Rick’s Crabby Cowboy on the eastern shore of Lake Montauk and Keith and Susan Grimes, who run land-moving businesses, will pay a $75,000 fine, and will have to pay $55,000 more if an agreed-to cleanup is not completed. In all, three businesses received 20 notices of violation from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, including dredging, building a road in a tidal wetland, storing materials without a permit, and conducting the work after a June 1 seasonal cutoff designed to protect the environment.
All of this raises a question: Where was East Hampton Town?
The laws on the town’s books in this regard are, if anything, tougher than the state’s, but there was not a single local citation. The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Department are supposed to issue dredging permits, and the Ordinance Enforcement Department is responsible for being on the lookout for violations. None were involved in this case, and no town charges resulted. It was only through the insistence of the Group for the East End that these violations of law were brought to the D.E.C.’s attention. In addition, statements at the time from Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson indicated one of three things: Either he had no knowledge of environmental law, spoke too hastily when he said all necessary permits were in place, or his sympathies lay with Mr. Gibbs and the Grimeses.
At a time when the state is struggling with the deep budget cuts that have hurt the conservation department, among others, it is important that local officials remain on the job. Unfortunately, in this case, and perhaps others that have not come to light — it appears that they have overlooked this responsibility.