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Another Step Forward for Utility Choice

Thu, 11/12/2020 - 09:17

The East Hampton Town Board adopted a flurry of resolutions last Thursday that enable the town to implement a community choice aggregation program, revise its music entertainment permit, and, on the recommendation of its water quality technical advisory committee, allocate money for multiple remediation projects.

Community choice aggregation, or C.C.A., allows a local government to procure electricity and/or natural gas on behalf of its residents, businesses, and municipal accounts from a provider other than its current utility. Under C.C.A., East Hampton Town would contract with energy service companies (ESCOs) to purchase power supply. Options include power produced through 100-percent renewable sources, power produced through nonrenewable sources, or a blend.

With last Thursday's vote, the town can now choose an administrator to issue a competitive bid and pick a supplier for electricity, natural gas, or both. Last year, Southampton Town adopted enabling legislation and selected an administrator, Joule Assets. Brookhaven Town has done the same, and other municipalities on Long Island are considering it.

Lena Tabori, chairwoman of the town's energy sustainability advisory committee, called into the virtual meeting to thank the board for its efforts. She also thanked Gordian Raacke of Renewable Energy Long Island, Lauren Steinberg of the town's Natural Resources Department, and Linda James, her predecessor on the committee. "So many people have put attention into this," she told the board, "and now, what we have is enabling legislation which will allow us, potentially, to do such unbelievable good on the side of climate mitigation."

It may seem unimportant, given winter's approach and live music sharply curtailed amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the revised music-permit legislation ends more than 18 months of often torturous negotiation involving the board, musicians, and owners and operators of live-music venues. An intent to "better balance the interests of the vibrant musical community with the interests of the community for safety and quiet enjoyment of property" brought condemnation and sometimes valuable testimony from the performers, who called the proposed legislation draconian and meanspirited and accused the board of moving to abolish live music.

The amendments first proposed would have allowed the town clerk to deny approval of a permit based on two or more prior convictions relating to town code bearing on music entertainment, fire prevention, special events, noise, or zoning, within the previous 36 months. Applicants could have appealed only in writing and within 30 days of a denial, and to a committee comprising emergency management, Building Department and Code Enforcement, and fire and police officials.

The legislation's final revisions significantly soften the initial proposals. A music entertainment permit for live music or the playing of prerecorded music by a D.J. will be required when it is the primary attraction or purpose for patrons to frequent an establishment. Music will be allowed outdoors only until 9 p.m. Permits are valid for one calendar year unless suspended or revoked by the town board; they previously renewed automatically.

Applicants must file with the town clerk a sworn application indicating whether the establishment or its owner has been convicted of any provision of town code pertaining to noise or fire prevention. The parameters of potential violations have been narrowed to code pertaining only to noise and fire prevention (overcrowding), failure to provide functioning fire protection systems and/or carbon monoxide detection systems, and failure to provide or maintain means of egress.

The revised legislation establishes a review board of the heads of the architectural and design review boards, the zoning board of appeals, and the planning board. It will be charged with approving or disapproving applications and verifications of existing permits, authority transferred from the town clerk.

A venue would have to be convicted of three violations within a single permit year to potentially lose its music entertainment permit, unlike the previous, more stringent proposal.

Prior to a permit's expiration and no later than Oct. 1, the town clerk is to send permit holders a form to verify that the information provided in the application is still accurate. Upon receipt of the completed form, the clerk will issue a new permit provided the application remains eligible. Those who fail to return the form before the permit's expiration will have to submit a new application.

Permits will remain free under the proposed legislation, but standard language stipulating that the board can establish a fee was included in the latest revision.

The board also resolved to allocate money from the community preservation fund toward water quality remediation projects, as recommended by the water quality advisory committee. The vote followed a September presentation from the committee and officials of the Natural Resources Department.

The Springs Improvement Society was awarded $82,395 to upgrade the sanitary system at Ashawagh Hall to a low-nitrogen system, the intent being to reduce pollutant inputs to Accabonac Harbor. Another septic system upgrade will happen at St. Luke's Episcopal Church rectory in East Hampton Village, for which $49,000 was awarded. The intent is to reduce pollutant inputs to Hook Pond. A $200,000 allocation was granted to the Crow's Nest restaurant and motel in Montauk to upgrade its commercial sanitary system, in order to reduce pollutants entering Lake Montauk.

East Hampton Village was awarded $191,500 for the dredging of sediment from Town Pond. The project is to benefit water quality in Hook Pond. Lastly, and pending the availability of funding, the Village of Sag Harbor will be awarded $230,001 to design and install stormwater abatement along Bay Street. If money is not available in this round of funding, the project is to be included in the first round of 2021 recommendations.

The board also heard from Len Bernard, the town's budget director, during a discussion of the 2021 budget, which increases spending by less than 1 percent over the 2020 budget. The board is scheduled to vote on its adoption next Thursday.



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