Promising Initiatives

Progress with electricity and water quality proposals

Attention to environmental concerns is growing here, with some positive results. We are enthusiastic about a $100,000 study of an electric “microgrid” in East Hampton Town, which could provide clean power and better electrical service during outages. At the same time, PSEG-Long Island is reviewing proposals for load-reduction and renewable generation to deal with soaring summertime demand on the South Fork. One of the companies seeking a deal with the utility, Deepwater Wind, is pushing hard for an offshore turbine contract, something that deserves support if the numbers work.

Also moving along are several proposals regarding wastewater in the town. We have expressed doubt about certain aspects of a plan by an outside consultant for a treatment plant that somewhat inexplicably would serve downtown Montauk, for example, but other suggestions are worthwhile. One is to require improved septic systems in all new housing developments, which would cut down the nitrogen reaching ground and surface waters. A draft law setting a higher standard than allowed now by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services is expected soon. 

Also taking place is a joint effort among the town, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Nature Conservancy to buy and return to nature low-lying house lots on Lazy Point. The money, nearly $10 million, will neutralize as many as 16 houses in a known floodplain, helping to reduce future demands for infrastructure improvements, such as raised roadways or bulkheads. The plan should be a model for other at-risk parts of town, where officials will be soon asked for erosion-control measures that will put traditional public passage along the beaches in jeopardy.

Separately, the town’s just-started hamlet studies, though billed as centered on the needs of businesses, might well be forums at which environmental concerns are raised. Certainly, any big-picture look at land use here would have to take into close consideration the fragility of natural resources and whether there really is any capacity for additional development without tipping the balance into irreversible damage to our surroundings. One truly cannot imagine a thriving community and visitor industry here without healthy waterways, clean air, and pristine beaches.

Important, too, is renewed interest among officials and a new citizens group in restoring Georgica Pond. Georgica, which once supported a modest, if viable, commercial fishery for white perch and blue-claw crabs, has been the site of repeated closures for bacterial contamination and is perhaps the body of water most in need of immediate attention.

We are less enthusiastic about East Hampton Town’s new look at coastal erosion policy. Work is expected to begin soon on an updated resiliency strategy in response to predictions of sea level rise. However, the effort will amount to little unless the town’s erratic-at-best enforcement of existing laws and the counterproductive actions of state and federal authorities change. One can’t fault officials for trying, but the proof will be in implementation — and assurances that future town boards will not simply toss the recommendations aside, as the current board did in downtown Montauk.

That said, these electricity and water quality initiatives represent progress at a time when stresses on our natural surroundings only seem to be growing. Taken together, the picture is promising.