(04/29/2010) A paintball tournament scheduled for Saturday at an East Hampton Town nature preserve has been canceled, but not before causing consternation and questions about whether such an activity is allowed on preserves and why its environmental impact had not been fully considered. The tournament, which was to have been a charity fund-raiser, was organized by the East Hampton Village Police Benevolent Association. It was canceled because of a lack of participants, Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen said on Tuesday.
When the East Hampton Town Board approved a permit for the tournament, on April 15, it was anticipated that 200 to 300 people would attend the event, at which teams would track each other through the woods to shoot opponents with paintballs.
Members of the town nature preserve committee, who learned about the proposal at a meeting the same evening the town board voted on it, have spoken out about the event, as have representatives of the Northwest Coalition Coordinating Committee and members of the public. In addition, the Group for the East End “reviewed the resolution and had serious concerns about both the use of a nature preserve as an athletic field and the process by which this application was considered,” according to Jeremy Samuelson, an environmental analyst with the Group.
“They didn’t ask our opinion,” Zachary Cohen, a co-chairman of the town nature preserve committee, said on Tuesday. “We just felt disenfranchised.” The committee develops management plans for the nature preserves in keeping with town code guidelines. Those preserves for which specific plans have not been adopted are governed under a generic one.
Besides environmental concerns, which included ground birds being in their nesting stage now, committee members questioned whether a large athletic event on a nature preserve violates the parameters or intent of
the nature preserve law. Among some of the purposes of nature preserves cited in the law are providing “opportunities for wilderness-like experiences, diverse recreational activities, and environmental educational programs and academic research programs.”
The generic management plan applicable to all nature preserves prohibits dumping, fires, abandoning animals, unauthorized digging, artifact collection, woodcutting, and unauthorized vehicle access. The law allows the town board to authorize cutting and maintenance of trails as well as habitat restoration and revegetation. No other activities are mentioned in the law.
Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said on Tuesday he had believed the site was not a designated nature preserve although one was across the street. The resolution approved unanimously by the town board stated only that the paintball tournament would be held “in woods off Old Northwest Road.”
The application, which was technically for a mass-gathering permit, said the site was on Old Northwest Road, but listed a tax map number of property off Old House Landing Road. The latter 40-acre site, the old Camp Norweska, which is a designated nature preserve, was the intended location, Chief Larsen said.
No public discussion of the application was held, beyond a brief review of the resolutions that were to come up at the formal April 15 meeting. Information about the composition of the paint — that it was made of natural, biodegradable materials — was shared before the vote.
Larry Penny, East Hampton Town’s director of natural resources, said yesterday that the population here of ground-nesting birds like towhees, ovenbirds, and whippoorwills has been declining, and that activities such as paintball tournaments or increased trail biking can have a deleterious effect. At the nature preserve committee meeting on April 15, he said he had suggested alternate town properties for the tournament.