Steven Gaines

Responses to East Hampton Environmental Coalition questionaire

Running for East Hampton Town Board
Endorsements: Republican, Opportunity Party

1. Please share with us accomplishments or experiences that would indicate your commitment to advancing an environmental agenda for East Hampton. These may be professional or personal.

My most enduring statement of my commitment to conservation and protecting our environment is Philistines at the Hedgerow: Passion and Property in the Hamptons (Little Brown 1998), a book with a leitmotif deploring the development of our rapturous landscapes. The year Philistines was published I was asked to be the speaker at the summer benefit for the then-called Group for the East End.

Also, as the host of Plum TV (2003-2005), and the host and producer of Steven Gaines’ East End (2001-2004), and host and producer of Sunday Brunch Live from the American Hotel (2003-2010), I was afforded the opportunity to be a vocal supporter of conservation issues, including the Dark Skies interest group. I interviewed Susan Harder several times to help spread the word, and I practice what I preach; I have low lighting and I use the light shields given to me by Ms. Harder.

I have also written and spoken about the use of pesticides, the control of the deer population, and my concerns about ground water.

As a journalist who is identified with the Hamptons, I have had the opportunity to speak about these issues with the national press over the years, and last year I wrote a brief article for New York magazine about dune erosion and the cost to the homeowners to replace dunes and replant grasses every few years.

On a proactive basis, I would propose incentives to builders and home owners for green construction and maintenance. I would direct more attention (and funds) to aquifer protection. I would prioritize Community Preservation Fund purchases in consultation with local environmental groups. I would revitalize the Natural Resources Department and strengthen its enforcement tools by enacting more stringent laws. I would ban, if I could, all pesticides, although I know this is unlikely to happen. For the record, I never have allowed any poison to be sprayed on my property, which is all woods and natural. I am a strong proponent of wind energy and would like to see more windmills built.

2. What do you believe is the role of town government regulation and enforcement in maintaining a clean, sustainable environment? What, if any, changes are the most important?

I’ve always believed the government should take a strong role in the regulation and enforcement of the environment. I would like to see an alliance between town government and private conservation groups to help tackle the issues. I would appoint a member of the town board as liaison responsible for conservation issues. (That would be me, I’d volunteer gladly.) Unfortunately when times are tough environmental concerns sink in interest and become the government’s stepchild. But we can’t afford to be a fad, particularly here in the East End where so much depends on our eco-system, and we have to lobby against the national Republican attempt to disassemble the EPA.

3. What resources, experts or opinions will you consult when making decisions that affect East Hampton Town’s environmental resources?

I don’t think I’d need to go much further to get expert advice than to ask the directors and staff of all the organizations who have written this very comprehensive questionnaire.

Coastal, Drinking and Surface Water
4. In view of the extreme weather conditions as of late, what should East Hampton Town, as a coastal community, do in the short and long term to prepare for these changes?

We’ve got to get the Army Corps to end their study and for them to recognize that we’ve got different issues than Fire Island and seek Federal support to make changes that will help us ease erosion. (One suggestion, although I’m hardly an expert, would be to alter or remove the artificial jetties that cause so much erosion west of East Hampton beach.) Fortunately, because of Tim Bishop’s support we’re able to dredge Montauk Harbor.

5. Do you believe current Town policies adequately protect drinking water quality and sustainability? If not, what, if any, policy changes would you support?

One priority is to correct the alarming problems with the sewerage treatment plants in East Hampton. If private aging septic systems need to be replaced the homeowner has to pay for it, so there should be a governmental financial incentive plan to help homeowners afford the modernization to meet present standards.

6. Periodically, East Hampton Town’s bays and creeks are closed to shell fishing or swimming due to poor water quality. Some water bodies do not meet Federal EPA MS4 storm water protection standards. What concrete actions will you support to improve the quality of our surface waters?

We need to actively pursue solutions in particular to the modernization or replacement of septic systems that were built before present government standards and seek affordable solutions to problems with runoff. I would support the Lake Montauk Watershed committee.

Land Preservation
Public land preservation protects our drinking water supply and improves drinking water quality, quality of life, tax rates and property values in the Town of East Hampton.
7. Should the Town continue to use the Community Preservation Fund to purchase land? If so, what changes, if any, would you support in land preservation policy or practice? If not, what funding mechanism do you propose ought to replace it?

I enthusiastically support the Community Preservation Fund. While we can never preserve enough open vistas, I’m proud that we’ve already been able to keep 42% of our land open space, but our work is hardly finished. I would like to see the CPF expanded to include not just land but waterways.

Dark and Quiet Skies
8. In 2006 the Town passed the "Smart Lighting" law which enhanced previous legislation addressing light pollution. What are the most important benefits (if any) and shortcomings (if any) of the Smart Lighting law? What actions would you support to expand or modify the enforcement of this law?

I would expand the Smart Lighting laws, particularly as it pertains to landscape lighting and decorative lighting of private residences. I have been a supporter of Dark Skies from the start, as I’ve already discussed in the first question. At the same time there are isolated situations where for safety issues the light needs to be corrected—for instance the crosswalks in Montauk—but other than specific instances I will be an implacable advocate for Smart Lighting.

9. Noise pollution caused by aircraft, particularly helicopters, has been a source of complaints from residents for many years. Because of financial agreements with the FAA, the Town government currently has little control over East Hampton airspace. How will you address these complaints? What specific rules would you like to see enacted?

This is a biased question. The supposition is that because of the town’s relationship with the FAA that we have “little” control over the airport, and that by not taking any further Grant Assurance money we would gain complete control and end the noise. Legal experts disagree that this is the case, and even without Grant Assurances our airport would subject to Federal regulations. Personally, I’d ban all helicopters, if we could, but it would take a $5 million lawsuit to find out, and only one other airport in America has ever been successful in banning one class of aircraft entirely. I remained undeterred, however, to find a solution to the airport noise. Let’s see what the new southern route affords us, and if the seasonal control tower helps mitigate the problem.

Government Planning and Enforcement
Historically, East Hampton has been a national leader in community and environmental planning and open space preservation.
10. What is your vision for the future of the Planning Department in East Hampton Town? What aspects of the Planning Department’s organization and function are most important for the Town’s future and what aspects, if any, would you change or strengthen?

A seven-year term is too long a term to have near absolute control the future of the town. I know that the terms are staggered, but still, a long term like seven years creates the opportunity for the board to get stagnant and cling to a philosophy that it not in tune with the 21st Century or the changing needs of the people who live here.
11. Are the Town’s Comprehensive and Local Waterfront Revitalization Plans adequate in your opinion? If not, which specific policies or plan recommendations do you not support or would like to see changed? Which policies would you prioritize for implementation?

Not adequate. One initiative I would like to take is public education about our waterways.

Solid Waste and Water Waste Management Facilities
The Town’s systems for the management of both solid waste (trash and recyclables) and water waste (sewage) have been the focus of critical discussion in recent years.

12. What is your assessment of the state of these systems, what are the major problems requiring correction, and what are the most urgently needed changes in policy and practice?

I believe I’ve made my views about water waste clear above, although there is certainly a great deal more I could learn about this issue. As for scavenger waste I would sub-contract the removal to a private company.


I'm delighted and impressed that Mr Gaines would like to completely eliminate commercial and private helicopter traffic into East Hampton. Helicopter noise annoys many East Hamptonites, and far more Long Islanders beyond the Town's borders. Helicopters, by definition, benefit only a tiny number of ultra-wealthy, impatient and insensitive individuals, and cause irritation, discomfort and even fear to hundreds of thousands of others. They epitomize the worst aspects of unbridled capitalism, and the utter contempt with which billionaires seem to regard mere milllionaires, and the even larger numbers of ordinary people. If it takes a $5 million lawsuit to establish that the Town can regulate the ubiquitous noise created by a tiny minority, I am sure that the hundreds of thousands of affected individuals will be happy to contribute. What's needed above all is for individual politicians to take a clear, moral, stand on this important and clear-cut issue.