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Wainscott Village: A Terrible Idea

Wed, 12/09/2020 - 13:34


The creation of a geographic entity — a village in this case — out of opposition to offshore wind power would seem the stuff of some far fringe of society. Only it isn’t. A small group of south-of-the-highway Wainscott property owners dismayed at the plan for an underground electric cable at Beach Lane are serious about their wish to form their own government and took a consultant’s plan to the Wainscott citizens committee in an online meeting on Saturday to pitch their idea.

Offshore wind power has a strange effect, in that it can make otherwise sane people seem bonkers. To wit: Several anti-cable folks organized a protest earlier this month at Beach Lane on the premise of saving the critically endangered right whale — only they put a photo of a breaching humpback whale on their road signs announcing the event, and, anyway, climate change-driven changes in their food supply are believed to be behind the recent and precipitous decline in right whale numbers. There is a particularly bitter irony in that in 1907 a group of Wainscott men killed one of the last few right whales taken for their oil, a juvenile, whose mother was killed the same day by an Amagansett whaling crew. The bones of the Amagansett whale hung in the American Museum of Natural History in New York for many years. The Wainscott juvenile was sent to the British Museum in London, supposedly in exchange for a mounted and stuffed dodo.

The reaction during Saturday’s presentation by the Wainscott village-idea backers was mostly negative and rightly so. Criticism came over the proposed village’s boundaries, which East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said looked gerrymandered, and the notion that the village mayor and board of trustees would not be paid for their service. “You get what you pay for,” Doreen Niggles, a Wainscott resident, said during her impressive jeremiad.

Wainscott is a gem, one of the East End’s most charming hamlets, with a Main Street that seems a step backward in time to a lost agrarian past. For us, the most troubling thing about a new village created there would be that its leadership could easily relax land-use laws to allow even greater development and unwelcome changes to farmland protections. Even if the first board of a newly born village had a hands-off approach, there is no reason that a subsequent group might not see things very differently.

Already there are hints that this could be in the wind, so to speak, as at least one builder specializing in luxury properties is joining forces with the anti-cable activists. To be evaluated in this context, too, is if a village board might want to stop the town from asserting control over East Hampton Airport, which could end up within the new government’s bounds, as entanglements with the Federal Aviation Administration fade away starting next year. Forgive the pun, but the airport is the biggest fish in the hamlet and has been for a long time. Also to be watched would be the potential for redevelopment of a large area north of the highway now used as a sand mine and cement plant.

Keeping Wainscott within East Hampton Town’s safe embrace is the best way to protect it for the long haul.

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