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Weighing Whether Wainscott Can Vote to Incorporate

Thu, 02/11/2021 - 15:05
A contractor for Orsted and Eversource Energy, the developers of the South Fork Wind farm, conducted test borings at the end of Beach Lane in Wainscott in June. Residents in favor of incorporation say that certain issues seem to fall disproportionately on their hamlet.
Durell Godfrey

During Friday's Town Hall hearing on a petition to incorporate Wainscott, more people than not called in to support a referendum on the proposal.

The hearing was ostensibly held to air objections to the legality of the petition, which was submitted to East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc on Dec. 30, but the supervisor said at its conclusion that it was "also important for government officials to listen to any and all comments" on incorporation. During the hearing, proponents and critics had charged each other with misinforming the hamlet's residents as to its consequences. 

Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott, a group formed to derail the proposed landing of South Fork Wind's export cable at the end of Beach Lane, is behind the drive to incorporate a 4.4-square-mile expanse of the hamlet. The group filed a lawsuit against the town board, Mr. Van Scoyoc, and South Fork Wind on Feb. 2, soon after town government granted easements to allow the cable to run under town-owned roads.

C.P.W.'s projections as to the proposed village's government, which assume a mayor and board serving on a volunteer basis, have drawn criticism from residents who believe the projections unrealistic. But supporters of a referendum complain about a lack of representation on the town board, and cite issues -- the wind farm, East Hampton Airport, a former sand and gravel mine, and contaminated groundwater -- that they say disproportionately affect them. 

The plan to incorporate "does not take into account wind farm litigation they've already brought," John Wainwright said at the hearing. "That is going to be very expensive," as would future litigation, he predicted, on other matters. A volunteer government is "a very quixotic idea," Mr. Wainwright said, "because Wainscott has trouble getting three members for its school board . . . I'm sorry to say, but I think it's highly unlikely to happen."

Others hammered the idea of a volunteer government, with Doreen Niggles, an outspoken opponent of incorporation, predicting that it "will fail spectacularly" and Betty Dankowski calling it "a dream." 

But Gouri Edlich, chairwoman of C.P.W., pointed to the surplus of registered voters who signed the petition. "All are excited by the prospect of voting on this important issue," she said. "Whatever the outcome, let the people decide." Rosemarie Arnold, another proponent, suggested that "the speculative reasons for objecting" to incorporation had no basis in law with respect to the right to vote on it. 

The proposed village's boundaries were drawn up in compliance with New York State law, after an earlier effort had failed to comply. Critics charge that residents of the hamlet who live outside the new boundaries will lose their free access to Wainscott's beaches, while C.P.W. envisions raising $66,000 annually from beach parking permits. 

Sam Kramer, who identified himself as chairman of the town planning board but made clear that he was speaking in a private capacity, is among the incorporation effort's most vociferous critics. He was scornful of the proposed boundaries, which he said would omit close to 100 properties "from the hamlet as it has been known for 350 years." He spoke of the "absolutely clear immorality of telling your neighbors" they would have to drive to Amagansett, in summer traffic, to access the nearest town beach, or pay to park at one of Wainscott's beaches. 

"Property values in Wainscott are tied to beach access," Mr. Kramer said, and properties with free beach access would be worth more than those of "people across the street who have been cut out of the village by this incorporation." This, he told Mr. Van Scoyoc, should be considered when determining the petition's legality.  

Naomi Cooper said that she and her husband, who are retired, are "worried and confused" as to who is behind the incorporation effort. The additional taxes it would impose "are being grossly underestimated," she said.  

But Michael Mahoney said that the new village would remain a part of the town, and that the plan is not aimed at denying access to Wainscott's beaches or school. "Misinformation gets people more excited. It's not helpful," he said. Incorporation advocates are "looking to have some control that we don't feel is being provided, that we have requested from the town. Plain and simple." 

Judith Hope, a former East Hampton Town supervisor and a proponent of the wind farm, likened the proposed village's footprint to gerrymandering. It has "cut out a couple of hundred homeowners who would not be allowed to vote" on incorporation, Ms. Hope said. She also criticized the well-funded effort to incorporate, which includes Mercury Public Affairs, a "high-stakes public strategy firm" according to its website. "The megaphone belongs to the side with the deepest pockets, frankly," Ms. Hope said. "It's very clear where the money is in this particular discussion."

The argument continued during the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee's virtual meeting on Saturday, with some in attendance asking for an independent audit of C.P.W.'s predictions as to the tax implications of incorporation. Mr. Kramer pressed Alex Edlich, Ms. Edlich's husband, on projected revenue from beach parking and the future annexation of those areas that are omitted from the proposed village, which he said is "vastly more complicated" than forming a village. 

Jordy Mark complained about the language in C.P.W.'s lawsuit -- "indifferent, hostile" -- and of what she called "scare tactics," which she said were unfair and inaccurate. "What, exactly, are the values of a new village that we cannot get" with the status quo, she asked. "Why such hostility toward the [town] board, what's the true value of having a village here? I don't understand the value of it."  

Mr. Edlich said he would relay her questions to Ms. Edlich. "Is there a reason that you can't respond?" Ms. Mark asked. "It's 11:10," was the answer, the meeting by then into its third hour. 

Mr. Van Scoyoc adjourned Friday's hearing to Feb. 25. Within 10 days after the hearing is closed, he will determine whether the petition complies with legal requirements. The supervisor said on Friday that he would review the requirements to ensure that his determination is based on the law. If the petition is deemed sufficient, it will go to a vote. If deemed insufficient, the petitioners can seek to have it adjudicated or resubmit a corrected version. 

Objections to the legality of the petition must be in writing and signed by one or more of the residents of the town, which must include the addresses of the objectors. Comments regarding the petition's legal sufficiency can be delivered via email to [email protected], or sent by mail to the Town Clerk, 159 Pantigo Road, East Hampton 11937.



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