The Concerned Citizens of Montauk has not only appointed Jeremy Samuelson as its new — and first — executive director of the 40-year-old environmental advocacy organization, but has also rented space for a walk-in office on South Elmwood Avenue, where the group hopes to establish a stronger presence in the hamlet. C.C.O.M.’s monthly meetings will now be held in the new space, whose walls will soon be hung with framed photo collages of days gone by and other artifacts.
Mr. Samuelson has worked as an environmental advocate for the Group for the East End, becoming a consultant to C.C.O.M.. in 2009. Sitting in the new office, which has been freshly painted white and opened up, he said on Monday that he has always been concerned about the environment, and that concern has only progressed over the years.
He wants to work with the schools, he said, sharing his expertise and learning more about their programs. He will focus in particular on protecting the quality of groundwater, preserving Lake Montauk, and urging East Hampton Town to use more of the community preservation fund to buy up smaller tracts of land. “We have to take a look at what’s left and the new challenges we’re faced with. Now that Montauk is built out, can we sustain its quality?” he asked. “I’d like to establish a connection with the fishing community and people that make a living depending on the natural resources of the area. Nobody wins if there are no fish out there.”
“My understanding is that there is $20 million in the C.P.F.,” said Mr. Samuelson. “There’s a lot of good that can be done with $20 million.”
Fort Pond House, a former residence on the banks of Fort Pond that was sold to the town at a reduced price for environmental programs, is also on his to-do list. The town proposed to sell the property to offset its cost and maintenance, and several groups have sued to reclaim it. The four-acre property and its house had been used by scout groups, school groups, and for educational and art programs. Mr. Samuelson said he hoped the town would “come to its senses and stop wasting taxpayer dollars” in fighting the litigation. “I’d like to appeal to the town to return the land for public use,” he said.
Bob Stern, the president of C.C.O.M., said yesterday that having a professional on board to represent the group at meetings and town board hearings will give them more leverage. When C.C.O.M. was first established it was all about land preservation, he recalled, but now there are many new challenges. “Now that things have become more dense, the issues in Montauk are not as subtle,” said Dr. Stern. “We needed a professional with the expertise and established connection to interpret scientific and legal coding issues for us. Jeremy has been a big player on many of the most significant environmental issues on the East End since 2007.”
A graduate of Southampton College with a degree in cultural ecology, the new director has worked for the town planning department, been the spokesman for the Suffolk County Police Department, and worked local waters as a pound-trap fisherman. As a journalist, he covered ecological issues for The New York Times and The East Hampton Star, and has worked to create a buffer zone and management plans for communities situated near national parks, specifically in protected areas of Kenya, India, and Nepal.
As a consultant, Mr. Samuelson helped create an internship program for East Hampton High School students to learn how to lead bilingual walks. Seven students have signed on so far; more, he hopes, will get involved. He helped oversee several other new programs, among them one held last weekend at Montauk Point with a noted biologist leading a seaweed scavenger hunt.
Mr. Samuelson lives in East Hampton with his wife and two young children. He said he thought his new job might one day be created, and he hoped it would be his.
“We all sort of knew in the back of our minds that I would make the full-time transition to C.C.O.M.,” he said. “It’s an amazing opportunity and a cool chance to get things done.”