By a strict party-line vote, the East Hampton Town Board approved a giant party called Shark Attack Sounds for the Fourth of July weekend in Montauk despite obvious concerns that the event had grown too large to be held either at its original location on East Lake Drive or at the Montauk Yacht Club.
Several thousand people attended this party last year, and this time around, Ben Watts, the promoter, asked the town for permission to host as many as 3,900 paying guests in an application that became public only at the last possible minute. What is astonishing is that Town Hall received the permit application on June 3, although you can be sure the event was planned long before that, and that it came to light only a little more than a week ago when it was mumbled onto the town board’s agenda by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson.
Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who is seeking re-election in November, cast the decisive vote in favor of the application. He and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley joined the supervisor, Republicans, in supporting the party. The board’s two Democrats voted against it.
In 2012, when town officials shut down Shark Attack Sounds for exceeding its 800-person permit, chaos ensued. Hundreds of vehicles took off bumper-to-bumper as revelers looked to continue the party elsewhere. This year, in a compromise, the promoters will turn off the music at 11 p.m., although the mass exodus will essentially be duplicated as thousands of guests queue up to take buses back to remotely parked vehicles — or climb into the likely horde of mostly non-local taxis drawn by the opportunity to charge exorbitant fares.
You can expect Rushmeyer’s, the Surf Lodge, Beach House, and Montauk’s other nightspots to enjoy a healthy boost of business — while neighbors cope with noise and litter — as the party moves onward and outward. This could be one reason why the Republicans, who seem eager to help Montauk’s burgeoning nightlife venues at every turn, voted yes. Meanwhile, in a separate, but related, matter, the board seems ready to approve new regulations that would make enforcement of noise complaints nearly impossible.
You couldn’t pick a worse place or time for an event of this size. Star Island, where the Montauk Yacht Club is located, is accessed over a narrow causeway that feeds into what is at best a secondary road. On the Fourth of July weekend, police and emergency responders have more than enough to deal with without a bacchanal that will draw additional thousands to the area. And for what? So a horde of young adults can get together to drink and have fun while an out-of-town, part-time promoter makes a few bucks for himself and the yacht club’s corporate ownership? There are several other marinas on the island, and a private residence, and to top things off, the United States Coast Guard Station, which is just up the road, would almost certainly see its access disrupted during the event.
The town board would have been well within its rights to deny the permit because the application contained what appears to be “materially false information.” It stated that the party was to be in part a benefit for the Montauk Playhouse, but it now appears that the community center’s representatives were never approached about it. The application had been made in time, at least 30 days before the party, but due to the town’s routing system, in which the paperwork is first viewed by the Police Department and others, the town board did not learn about it until the last minute. Even then, Mr. Wilkinson appeared to obfuscate the request, failing to describe exactly who was seeking the permit and for what when scheduling a public hearing.
All of this gets, once again, right to the heart of East Hampton’s identity: Is our town government of and for its residents or not? Are we — and the powers that be — just in it for the money or do we care about where we live and want to keep it a certain way? It is unfair that anyone’s peaceful enjoyment of their house, yard, or summer rental is impinged on? Yes, we live in what is largely a resort area, but that does not give commercial interests, or, dare we mention, the pilots of helicopters and jets the right to do whatever they want, whenever they want? Protecting neighborhoods from unwarranted assaults is, in fact, enshrined in the East Hampton Town Code.
We suspect we are not alone in thinking that the balance has tipped too far in favor of those who want to extract what cash they can here without regard for anything or anyone else. It is a pity that they have found such willing and consistent supporters among those on the town board.