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Oppose Gann Road Hatchery Plan

Thu, 08/15/2019 - 15:54

State funding in hand, but is it moving too fast?

The East Hampton Town Board’s plan to consolidate the town’s shellfish hatchery at a site on Three Mile Harbor continues to be a target of pushback by neighbors and others who are alarmed by what they predict will dramatically intensify activity in an already active and residential area.

At the board’s Aug. 6 meeting, two Springs residents harshly criticized the plan to relocate the hatchery’s headquarters from a site on Fort Pond Bay in Montauk to 36 Gann Road, a parcel at the corner of Babe’s Lane contiguous to the hatchery’s nursery grow-out site in Three Mile Harbor. They called the plan, which they said was being both hastily and ill-advisedly implemented, an example of government running roughshod over residents.

The town purchased the parcel for $2.1 million with the intention of constructing a new headquarters for the hatchery as well as an environmental education center, the latter to be situated in an existing building. The hatchery’s present site is problematic for several reasons, its director has said, not least the distance from nursery sites and the high mortality that results from transporting the juvenile shellfish that are spawned there.

The town was awarded a $400,000 Empire State Development grant, which the board agreed would be allocated toward design, permitting, and preliminary construction costs for the new facility, which has an estimated total cost of $2.65 million.

At the board’s July 16 meeting, 10 residents, several of them oyster farmers, spoke in support of the project. But at the Aug. 6 meeting, Mark Mendelman, an owner of several marinas and a vessel service and repair business on Three Mile Harbor, complained to the board of a “double standard of municipal development,” charging that a private citizen would never be able to clear the numerous regulatory hurdles required to allow intensified use in a residentially zoned, harbor protection overlay district.

“It’s already a busy place,” Mr. Mendelman said, citing the commercial dock, marinas, the Bostwick’s on the Harbor restaurant, fuel trucks delivering to private vessels, the town’s Marine Patrol facility and the town trustees’ pump-out facility, the existing aquaculture grow-out infrastructure, and kayakers, paddleboarders, and swimmers. “What is driving this?” he asked of the plan. “It feels like ‘ready, fire, aim.’ ” He called the project “unwanted by residents,” who he said have circulated a petition opposing it.

He will not vote for any board member who continues to favor the project, Mr. Mendelman said. “It’s too expensive, even before government creep sets in.”

Ira Barocas, who lives on Babe’s Lane, said that his initial support for the project evaporated in the face of “what’s been revealed as a really bad idea.” He decried what he called an “ill-conceived, overblown, and . . . ongoing, unchecked, cavalier expansion of oyster growing” that “is bad for the neighborhood, open access, the beachfront, nature preserve, and, most important, for the immediate environment.” Relocating the hatchery to 36 Gann Road would be “at the expense of those who live, work, fish, and swim there,” he predicted.

The town board’s actions constitute “a rush to spend public funds just because they’re there,” Mr. Barocas said, a view rejected by the board — with the exception of Councilman Jeff Bragman, who has repeatedly voiced the same concern. “We’re all for aquaculture, but it is a bad idea for here,” Mr. Barocas said.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc took exception to Mr. Barocas’s comments, and said the town board has been discussing consolidation of the hatchery since 2012. “More than a year ago, we talked about acquisition of this property with the idea it could become a consolidated hatchery site,” he said.  

“The whole thing got popped out whole, without any discussion with anyone in the neighborhood,” Mr. Barocas replied.

“It’s certainly not whole,” Mr. Van Scoyoc countered. “It’s a proposed concept plan. We look forward to engaging you and the residents in that discussion.”

Mr. Bragman sided with Mr. Mendelman and Mr. Barocas. “I agree that this was not as adequately publicized to neighbors and the neighborhood as it should have been as it’s wending its way through,” he said. “Despite calling it a concept plan . . . the town did purport to approve an environmental assessment form,” the final document executed after review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. “It gives the impression that we’ve gone through SEQRA, which we have not and could not. . . . The public was not properly engaged.”

Last month, the town submitted a State Consolidated Funding Application for money to construct the new hatchery facility, including more than 50 letters of support and justification.

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