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State of the Town: Expecting an Eventful 2021

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 06:50

An eventful and stressful 2020 behind it, the East Hampton Town Board delivered broad outlines of what is likely to be a similarly eventful 2021 at its organizational meeting on Tuesday, a year that may see an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has now upended life in the town for almost one year.

In his state of the town remarks, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc referred to momentous events to come, including the implementation of the federal Army Corps of Engineers' Fire Island to Montauk Point project, scheduled to begin in October, the town's assuming greater control over East Hampton Airport with the September expiration of Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances, planning and building a new senior citizens center, and renovating the Springs Library and the East Hampton Town Marine Museum.

He also referred to preparations for the potential use of the former Child Development Center of the Hamptons building as a Covid-19 vaccination site.

Another significant potential change, not included in his remarks, is the drive to create an incorporated village of Wainscott, a petition for which was delivered to the supervisor last week. That is covered separately in this issue. 

In another new development, Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez was named deputy supervisor. She succeeds Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who served in that role for three years.

Environmental issues including climate change were prominent in Mr. Van Scoyoc's remarks. The town board and town trustees have negotiated access and community benefits agreements with developers of the proposed South Fork Wind farm. The benefits package that will deliver almost $29 million to the town and trustees over the installation's 25-year life span will be dedicated to "advancing our transition to clean renewable energy, as well as to local environmental restoration projects," he said.

The town board voted in November to pass legislation enabling community choice aggregation, which could allow the procurement of 100-percent renewable energy. In 2020, the town also entered into a power purchase agreement with the New York Power Authority for the state's first combined solar/battery storage project at a municipal building. The installation of photovoltaic panels and a battery storage system at the Parks Department building, at 159 Pantigo Road, is expected to start in the spring.

Twelve electric vehicle charging stations in Montauk, installed at no cost to the town, went online last month, adding to a growing infrastructure that includes charging stations at Town Hall and the municipal parking lot in Amagansett. The board also recently adopted a fleet-efficiency policy for procurement of electric, hybrid, and more fuel-efficient vehicles. LED lighting upgrades were completed at four municipal buildings, and LED solar lighting was installed in the Amagansett municipal lot.

The town's septic system replacement program to remediate degraded water quality saw 117 new low-nitrogen systems installed in 2020, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, and the town's Solarize East Hampton campaign facilitated the installation of 35 new rooftop solar systems.

The town has engaged consulting engineers to assist in creating an erosion control district and a wastewater district for downtown Montauk. The former will be in conjunction with the Fire Island to Montauk Point project, "which includes a sand replenishment project that is expected to pump 450,000 cubic yards of sand onto the downtown Montauk beach" beginning in October, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, calling it "an intermediate solution that will allow more time for our Coastal Assessment and Resiliency Planning initiative to develop a more sustainable adaptation to sea level rise and storm inundation, which includes moving critical infrastructure further inland."

The town "will collect data on the economic contributions of the airport and the demographics of users" ahead of the September expiration of F.A.A. grant assurances, which limit the town's authority, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. "We will also consider negative impacts of the airport along with possible restrictions and alternative uses," with the goal of "meaningful relief for the ever-growing multitude of people whose quality of life is adversely affected by aircraft noise."

Noting protests in East Hampton and neighboring towns against the killing of Black citizens by police officers in several high-profile incidents around the country in 2020, Mr. Van Scoyoc said that a state-mandated review of Police Department policies and procedures and a dialogue with the community are underway. A policing survey will be circulated, and a police reform committee will help in coming up with a plan to address concerns. That plan will be submitted to the state following a public hearing and board approval.

The recently formed wireless communications committee will work with outside consultants to rewrite the town code to reflect current Federal Communications Commission regulations, identify coverage gaps, and develop a plan to alleviate them, the supervisor said. An ongoing emergency communications upgrade project is scheduled for the spring.

Despite "numerous unanticipated expenses" and a loss of nontax revenue because of the pandemic, "healthy fund reserves allowed us to meet these 2020 budget shortfalls, and still deliver a 2021 budget below the state's 2-percent cap on tax increases." An update to the town's three-year capital plan will be discussed later this month, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, and 2021 will see a net $2.5 million decrease in indebtedness.

"There is good and hopeful news about the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic," the supervisor said, citing the vaccines now being administered to front-line health care workers. "I am hopeful that the vaccine will be made more widely available soon, and that we can start to see a return to normalcy later this year."


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