Concerned Citizens of Montauk has started a petition in support of a project the group pitched to the East Hampton Town Board that would see goats used to remove invasive vegetation in a portion of the roughly 40-acre Arthur Benson Preserve.
“This stunning natural maritime ecosystem has been marred by the proliferation of invasive plant species, threatening the biodiversity and scenic beauty that Montauk residents and visitors love,” reads C.C.O.M.’s petition, which is at change.org. “The plan uses well-established invasive species management techniques such as strict erosion control protocols and the temporary and selective use of goats. By signing this petition, you’re voicing your support for this vital restoration effort.” Signatures, it reads, “will send a powerful message of support for this project to our local leaders and organizations.”
As of Wednesday morning, the petition had 210 signatures.
The town board looked favorably on the proposal during an initial presentation in July, during which C.C.O.M.’s director of environmental advocacy and a landscape ecologist said that the project, which would also use machinery to remove invasives, would restore habitat and vistas and increase resilience against erosion on the narrow strip of land south of Old Montauk Highway and overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
A “middle zone” of the preserve, about eight acres, is steep and predominantly comprises vines, which are not as easily removed by human efforts, the board was told. In about half of that area, two to three goats per acre would be released to consume their favorite foods, which Rusty Schmidt, the landscape ecologist, told the board happen to include poison ivy, green briar, multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, and Japanese knotweed. The area would be fenced and a shelter erected, as goats do not like rain, Mr. Schmidt said.
Should the project proceed, plans call for work to begin in the winter, with the goats’ arrival slated for next spring.
But last month, two Montauk residents pushed back on the proposal, citing a judge’s 1994 ruling that prohibits fencing or any other structures on the Benson Preserve. A 1990s lawsuit was decided in favor of plaintiffs the Breakers Motel et al. and against the defendants Nicola Biase and Sunbeach Montauk Two, the former parties prevailing in arguing that their deeds grant an easement over the latter’s property. Mr. Biase had bought the land in 1982 and planned to develop it, and in 1984 erected fencing blocking access to the property, precipitating the lawsuit.
The 1994 ruling affirmed that a restrictive covenant runs with the property, that the plaintiffs and the public have access rights, and that the defendants must remove the fencing and “are without the right to erect fences, berms or other structures” and are “forever barred from making claim to erect such structures.” The town acquired the property in 1999.
Jeanne Nielsen, who heads the town’s assessor’s office but was speaking on her own behalf, reiterated to the board last month that the 1994 ruling stipulated that no hard structures of any kind, permanent or not, are allowed on the Benson Preserve. Ms. Nielsen’s family, who owns the Twin Pond Motel on Old Montauk Highway, was among the plaintiffs in the 1990s lawsuit.
The board voted last month to pass a resolution in support of the restoration project and announced a plan for a public hearing in September, though no hearing has taken place this month. Ms. Nielsen had asked that the board table the resolution until the approximately 50 neighbors “are brought into the conversation.”