Nature Notes: Redemptions and Contentions

This past Monday I took one of those trips to see what has transpired and what might transpire

Having worked as the environmental protection and natural resources director for East Hampton Town for a long time, every so often I ride through the roads to see how the town and its village and hamlets are faring. Naturally, I check out past carnages to see if there have been any redemptions of sorts and, happily, in most cases there have been. 

I know the old adage “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” especially true long after it has been spilled. Many of my contemporary retirees just moved on, or both moved on and moved away. I just can’t do that. I am still bonded by an umbilicus to the town that I worked in and for, for 28 long years. 

This past Monday I took one of those trips to see what has transpired and what might transpire. I started out by visiting the beginning of Town Line Road north of Montauk Highway. A friend had told me about a large clearing that had occurred recently on the Southampton side of the road. Lo and behold, there were two huge side-by-side clearings of pine and oak woods and two Southampton Town stop-work-order signs posted on trees next to each. The name on the realty signs next to the Southampton postings was Farrell. I was not surprised. 

Then I scooted on over to the Nature Preserve in East Hampton Village. Someone had emailed me in California from East Hampton that a new bridge was in the offing over the northern neck of Hook Pond and that it would go from one side to another. I was flabbergasted to learn that the span was to start in one wetland on the east, end in another one on the west, and would be anchored with stanchions. I was familiar with the two wetland areas and had identified ladies’ tresses orchids and other plants rare to Long Island growing there in different years. While I was examining the area close up, a Wilson’s snipe worked the southern edge of the eastern wetland, darting in and out, and two almost fully grown cygnets nibbled the sedges while a circumspect adult looked on. 

I stopped in at the town offices at Pantigo Place, and, after reporting my observations, learned that several longstanding disputes were still in limbo. One was a driveway on the west side of East Lake Drive. I had worked on this matter myself at the beginning of former supervisor Bill Wilkinson’s time in office. This driveway, more like a one-vehicle-wide dirt trail to the waters of Lake Montauk, took entry a little north and west of Big Reed Path. It had once accommodated baymen and recreational clammers, but a property owner to the north of it questioned the town’s ownership of the land, and the matter has yet to be resolved by the court. 

The town owns 2.5 acres of underwater land, which is served by that road. There is also a culvert that runs under the road from east to west through which stormwater enters the lake. Back when I was the town’s natural resources director, while working on reducing pollution from such culverts on all sides of the lake, I had Cornell Cooperative Extension test the outflow after a rain, and it was found to be high in coliforms as well as nitrogen products and other pollutants. 

The idea had been to reclaim the land and put in a small retaining basin to catch the runoff from the culvert and settle out the silts while removing contaminants biologically via wetland plants and aquatic organisms. Between 2006 and 2011 such remediation had been carried out successfully at four other culvert outputs feeding the lake. The catchment ponds that were created were successful in reducing pollution.

The Natural Resources Department applied for the permits, but the project was opposed by Harry Ellis, the neighboring property owner, who sued the town, questioning its ownership of the property. (The suit named Mr. Wilkinson, the Natural Resources Department and yours truly, among others.) 

The matter has yet to be decided, and the culvert continues to dump runoff directly into the pond without any kind of pretreatment. 

I still believe it would be fair and right to take the steps to correct a longstanding wrong and to work to open the disputed right of way to the town and its taxpayers. 

Larry Penny can be reached via email at