Close to Home
November 6, 2023
In this fall season of vibrant color and praise for trees, I write to invite your readers to visit the stand of coastal redwoods at LongHouse Reserve and to see the youngster trees propagated from the mama trees at the Hayground School. Yes, that’s right, coastal redwoods in East Hampton and Bridgehampton.
In last week’s New York Times, in the “Climate Issue” of the Magazine (October 25), Moises Velasquez-Manoff wrote an essay about Philip Stielstra, a retired Boeing worker who has become a so-called tree ambassador, literally helping to find new homes for trees under threat.
Giant sequoias have thrived for generations in the southern Sierra Nevada, but warming conditions, drier soil, less snow, and wildfires have put the trees at risk in the place they call home. Mr. Stielstra is planting sequoias in Washington State and Oregon, thousands of trees, where they not only thrive, but also restore habitat. Redwoods store carbon; in forests, they comprise the greatest carbon ecosystems in the world.
Back to our local story, we wonder if some of the trees Mr. Stielstra is planting on the Northwest coast may have come to him through LongHouse or, more specifically, through David Milarch, the so-called Man Who Planted Trees, a visionary on a journey to find and protect champion trees as key to the survival of the planet.
As our friend Scott Chaskey records in his new book, “Soil and Spirit,” some years ago, Jack Lenor Larsen, “the magician responsible for the diverse and colorful palette of the 16-acre garden” at LongHouse, planted seven coastal redwoods, a gift from the horticulturist at Rockefeller Center. Mr. Milarch heard about the LongHouse redwoods from Charlie Marder; Mica Marder climbed the trees and took cuttings. The saplings grew at David’s propagation conservatory in Copemish, Mich. Those saplings have multiplied and through what we call assisted migration have been planted around the country, and close to home by students at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton. Students from East Hampton High School planted several more at LongHouse.
During the Hayground planting ceremony, Megan Chaskey and Becky Genia, an elder from the Shinnecock Nation, led all in the blessing, singing, “We place ourselves at the origin of confidence in the world.” Words to live by.
Please visit in awe and wonder.
Director, LongHouse Reserve
November 2, 2023
To the Editor:
Last week, you reported that a decision of the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals has again been overturned by a court (Christopher Gangemi, “Another Zoning Board Ruling Overturned”) — the fourth time this has happened this year.
Per the New York Court of Appeals, our highest court, decisions of a zoning board are to be treated with great deference. Zoning boards have “broad discretion” and may only be overruled if “arbitrary and capricious” — a standard so tough that, as Rick Whalen commented in your article, our Z.B.A. lost only a single case in the 1990s.
A trial court should not “substitute . . . its judgment for that of the agency” (Matter of Gebbie v. Mammina, 13 N.Y.3d 728 (2009)). Yet our Suffolk County trial courts seem to be doing exactly that, managing the town while depriving it of authority. In addition to the four slaps administered to the Z.B.A. this year, I am thinking of other controversial local cases, such as those involving the airport and Truck Beach.
As citizens of East Hampton, we are protected by the town’s independence in making local land use and other decisions — and by the “arbitrary and capricious” standard. Courts that intervene too easily in governing are hollowing out the town with their random interventions, without any ongoing responsibility to us as citizens and taxpayers.
I hope that our appeals courts will reverse this trend and restore the town’s “broad discretion.”
For democracy in East Hampton,
November 6, 2023
Let’s try to function along democratic principles — or must we continue to devolve into nasty gang warfare? It’s a good question right now. It’s applicable worldwide, and to national politics, and recently to some local hot issues
The continuing fracas in Amagansett over the color black proposed for the facade of a restaurant is tedious and probably unnecessary. By granting respect to both positions, we can see what may seem trivial to some also seems critical to others.
The repeated architectural review board meetings have turned into a heated, fractious diatribe, pitting individual community members against each other over what should be a reasonable matter that could easily be resolved through the process of open discussion and negotiation.
The A.R.B. chairwoman feels she is duty-bound to the color code as written. It was suggested changing or clarifying the code if the community wants to do that.
The applicant wants to receive a special exemption from a perhaps too-narrow code. Flexibility and cooperation seem lacking here.
Many folks are attacking the board for voting according to the code as written, which creates an adversarial Punch-and-Judy show, similar to Washington politics over the recent few years. Everyone is “just doing their job” in a somewhat blind manner.
Jon Tarbet, whether paid or pro bono, is like all strong lawyers hired to vigorously defend the purpose of his client; gathering like-minded witnesses to pressurize his argument is a commonplace strategy. Unfortunately this often leads to insults, shaming, and a warfare attitude that is actually more destructive to community cohesion than the issue being argued.
This Amagansett behavior is mimicking that of our nation’s politics in an unfortunate and ugly way. Winner take all, bending the rules and laws for your friends doesn’t seem to be working in Congress, so why try that here?
Running a federal government, state government, or even a little charming hamlet government, should be by well-established democratic principles, not by gang warfare.
The world is in the middle of continuing disasters, and here we are bickering about a color scheme. One could easily say, “Drop it and move on.” On the other hand, we could step back and clarify the regulations in a more-appropriate fashion.
I seem to be one of many who always appreciated the existence of Rowdy Hall, its value to the community, and its style of operation. The original location, buried in an alleyway, never seemed ugly or offensive with the signage being a black background with gold lettering. It always seemed to be in keeping with the old British pub look. Nothing shocking there.
Currently, in the Hamptons, there seems to be a fascination with houses being painted jet black. I’m not a big fan of that gloomy look, even though I know it is the current design rage, but I guess people can do what they want with their own residence/castle. Perhaps this trend is of concern to the A.R.B.?
I understand an entirely black facade is rather gloomy and depressing in an era when gloomy and depressing seems to be all around us politically. I’m not sure why the owners of Rowdy Hall can’t consider maintaining their trademark signage exactly as they have always had it, and refrain from painting the entire facade black? Wouldn’t it be possible to treat the facade with a dark mahogany “wood” color? Maybe the A.R.B. could ease up and even consider the black of ebony? Some compromise like that would be a more-effective way of moving into a neighborhood that is significantly different from the neighborhood they just departed from.
Maybe then we could all go there in peace and celebrate the healing of a community, and perhaps start the healing of our entire nation on a more cooperative basis.
Here’s to my rather naive wish.
Until Too Late
November 4, 2023
Among the plethora of candidates’ letters and recommendations, a few letters diverting our attention to other issues locally stood out. First, the Montauk antisemitic graffiti on a much-loved cafe and shop we regulars call, “The Good” was a sad day among us. You know by now, food trucks and loo doors down by Ditch and the jetty were also smeared with hateful words and swastikas. Here? Yep. Hope they’re caught and taught that what they did was a hate crime with consequences.
Second, when will we realize retreat is imminent from the rising tide and eroding beach? Montauk is beloved and rightly so. And the quarry mined sand is failing us all. It’s a bottomless pit of money for the sand mine owner, but no payoff for the town or the beach. Wake up.
Our aquifer and, thus drinking water supply is in jeopardy, still. When is that on the agenda before more building in overly dense neighborhoods? Nobody cares. Until it’s too late.
The world mourns and cries for any deaths of innocents. As we intend, peace is possible even in an impossible region bent on living in modern times with an ancient “civilization” based on barbarism and control and abuse of women. Let’s remember you don’t create anything good with terror. War sucks. Hopefully it soon ends.
Religion one day may take a much-needed holiday. It hasn’t served us well in history, whether modern or ancient, bar the ones who revered the Earth and honored women. Everything following those turned to men-in-charge story cults. Enough, lads. Lay down your arms and go to the woods a la Thoreau. You’re tired and we’re sick and tired of your violent toys. Hunt for your soul instead. Do you still have one?
The holidays are approaching even if you’re still swallowing your pumpkin spice latte and eating your last Snickers. Let’s try loving one another instead of the neurotic shopping to on-loop Mariah and exhausting cooking and preparing to sit down for one hour of peace and break bread. As my good friends the Love Mothers of Brooklyn taught, “The answer is loving.”
Peace to all,
Pause and Review
November 6, 2023
To the Editor:
As the owner of property on the Old Montauk Highway directly to the north of the Benson Reservation, which is now the subject of the Benson reserve habitation restoration project, I find myself in a dilemma: moral, legal, ecological, and safety on one hand and a beneficiary of increased visibility of the ocean from my property on the other.
I have reviewed the invasive species adaptive management plan, a proposed legal brief by John T. Shea Esq. of Twomey and Latham attorneys, and a report from Cornell University Cooperative Extension, which differs from the Benson project’s proposed accomplishments.
The difference, in my opinion, would cause an ordinary reasonable person to consider the following: Pause the initiating of the project, as time is not of the essence; review scientific evidence submitted and to question the author for discovery and verifiable proof of their assertions and claims; factor in the law of unforeseen consequences to counter a rush to judgment, thereby possibly avoiding a natural calamity; solicit the opinion of the property owners who are directly affected by the project (Sometimes dissenting opinions offered may ultimately have more credence and validity then the initial submission of affirmative evidence), and seek out amenable property owners who may have alternative proposals for the project.
Longtime Montauk property owners are well aware of the storms and hurricanes that caused damage in Montauk in the 1950s and ‘60s. Some of us remember Tom Joyce and his home floating across Tuthill Pond and his holding onto the top beam in his house to save himself.
In 1991, my home on Capt. Kidd’s Path, sitting on a dune and bulkheaded, experienced Hurricane Bob, which collapsed the dune causing a 50-foot drop from my front deck to the water.
Prior to the hurricane, homeowners west of the jetty requested the Army Corps of Engineers to delay and conduct more research before widening and lengthening the jetty near Gosman’s or at least consider an underwater pump to facilitate the movement of the littoral drift from the east side of the jetty to the west side, which fell on deaf ears. The law of unforeseen consequences, aforementioned cited, then came into play and all homeowners west of the jetty lost beaches and were subjected to great expense to protect their property.
We have all witnessed and listened to officials parry the term “mission accomplished” only to subject all of us to the foreseeable consequences that could have been avoided by delaying, researching, and being amenable to listen to dissenting opinions that may have had more probity than the initial, “There is no alternative!”
Owner Surfside Inn
Snapshot in Time
November 6, 2023
As a botanist, horticulturist, and Montauk resident I am offering some perspective on the proposed Benson Preserve project. I feel it relevant to highlight some of my credentials in order to show that I have some knowledge in regard to native-plant restoration and the vegetation of Montauk.
I earned a degree in horticulture from the University of Maryland and have been working in the plant field in one capacity or another for over 45 years. At present, I propagate and grow native plants, many of which are used in native plant restoration jobs for our family landscape and nursery business. I am also a field botanist and have been studying the flora of Montauk for over 10 years while working on a manuscript on the flora of Montauk. I am on the board of the New York Flora Association and a member of multiple botanical societies. Additionally, I serve as vice president of Third House Nature Center. I have been involved in numerous invasive plant removal projects and paradoxically find myself in opposition to the Benson project.
It wasn’t a professional environmental organization or agency that initially raised concerns for the need of an invasive species removal and a restoration in the Benson Preserve. Where did it begin then and what was the motivation? It was initiated with an idea to create a better view of the ocean for the homeowners and hotels across the street from the preserve, and for people who drive by along the old highway.
To this end, a private resident hired and paid Nelson Pope Voorhis for an environmental engineering plan to remove the invasive plants. The Concerned Citizens of Montauk was brought in to the project for support because of its reputation.
This is a vista project, not an environmental one. The homework hasn’t been done to determine if there is a scientific, environmental (not visual) need to remove the common invasives. The engineers and ecologist are simply doing what they were paid for: to create a plan to remove invasives. They are not unbiased experts recommending the need for this project.
In a past letter to the editor it was erroneously written, in part, that the Benson project is supported by the agencies Long Island Invasive Species Management Area, Partnership of Regional Invasive Species Management, and the New York State Natural Heritage Program. This is not true and should be formally retracted. I spoke to representatives of both LIISMA (who are under the umbrella of PRISM) and the New York Natural Heritage Program and they did not make any such declaration of support.
Centuries of grazing, burning, and logging caused the vegetation degradation of the Montauk peninsula. Since the end of these activities, the land has been in a state of natural succession, with native and exotic plants revegetating the land.
It was presented in the Benson project proposal that they want to restore the scenic vista to how it looked in the past as seen through the lens of some longtime residents who remember a less vegetated landscape. The old photographs used as examples of what they intend to “restore” the preserve back to are merely from a snapshot in time and were the result of man’s activities, not of a natural state. None of us were around to see, nor do we have photographs to show us, just how Montauk looked before the colonists arrived nearly 400 years ago. But it most certainly did not look like what those photos depict and suggesting that was the natural state is erroneous. What we see today in Montauk is the vegetation still recovering back to its former potential.
Short of bringing back the cattle and sheep, the only way to recapture that stark vista would be to clear-cut the land and remove all the shrubs and trees, both native and exotic. The notion of editing out the exotic plants alone is not enough to recreate the scenic vista that is promised by this project. The preserve is currently home to some sizable native trees, including oaks, black cherries, sumac, shad, and eastern red cedar, some of which are upward of 18 feet tall. Many of the native shrubs are just as tall as the invasive honeysuckle and autumn olives. After the invasives are removed, the remaining natives will still hinder the ocean view. In the end, I predict that it is not going to look a whole lot different than it does now and people are going to be sorely disappointed.
The goats are a gimmick. The project engineers used examples of some places that have used goats but nowhere do they state how effective they were. Goats are cute, they eat vegetation, they are not trained to only eat invasives, and they do not outright kill or eradicate invasives. I spoke with the director of the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton who said they enlisted 27 goats for two years in a row in hopes of ridding the invasives (in particular, autumn olive) in the meadow behind the museum, and, in his words, “It did nothing.” I also spoke to a state employee at Heckscher State Park and they reported that the goat project was unsuccessful because they wouldn’t feed on the target species which they hoped to control. I have nothing against the goats, but in this case they are a waste of money.
The preserve is host to a multitude of native plants. The spectacular seaside and gray goldenrod, and Maryland golden aster are just finishing up. Little bluestem, with its fluffy seeds, is everywhere knitting the low growth with switch grass, wooly beach heather, bayberry, sumac, groundsel tree, arrow-wood viburnum, and milkweed too. There are also the usual common exotics, like all the preserves have, but none so bad as to single out the Benson Preserve and warrant such a project.
The Benson stretch of oceanfront dunes has been particularly stable through hurricanes and northeasters. What will happen in the vacuum after the plants are ripped out? The loss of even exotic plant vegetation and anchoring roots would be undermining to the dunes. The exposed soil would be then vulnerable to erosion and could become an open seedbed for weeds to germinate, perhaps even to new species of invasives that the Benson Preserve has not yet encountered. In the end it is possible that the altered land will ironically become more compromised. As an ecologist questioned, “When does restoration do more harm than good?”
Shake Things Up
November 5, 2023
Let’s not forget once again the wind farm agreement says, after the initial payment, the rest of the payments will not start until the project is completed, the wind farm is producing, and the cable is delivering power.
A letter last week had one individual happy to pay more a month. The ratepayers in other sections of the country are paying more attention to the fine print. Without government subsidies the cost is about $136 per megawatt-hour of electricity. One megawatt is the equivalent to 1,000 kilowatts. Just check your bill to see what you use individually for a cost narrative.
Also, riveting to see The Star editorial about if the Dems sweep the election will they take on a dissenting voice. They’ve already proven for the last few months they will vote lock step with four members regularly at meetings. Why not have a little fun and shake things up?
November 6, 2023
My father, Rabbi Martin Freedman, was a longtime member of this community. In 1961, he traveled as a Freedom Rider with other faith leaders throughout the South to end the apartheid regime we call Jim Crow.
Black Americans in the South were denied the right to vote. Their free travel was restricted. Their employment was limited to menial, low-paying jobs. There were towns they couldn’t be in after sundown without risking death. My father’s heroic example taught me that being Jewish meant defending justice for all. That the long history of persecution we suffered as Jews meant that compassion and respect for all life is our sacred duty. It’s called tikkun olam.
Can you imagine the agony I feel now as I watch Israel rain indiscriminate death down on thousands of Palestinian civilians? As I write, more than 10,000 have died, nearly half of them children. I watch in anguish as the Israelis use weapons like white phosphorus bombs that are paid for by my tax dollars. (White phosphorus cannot be extinguished. It burns flesh to the bone.)
Genocide is not the answer to terrorism. My outrage and grief at Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack has become overwhelmed by my shame at the wholesale ethnic cleansing and collective punishment of an entire people that is being inflicted in my name.
As horrific and evil as the Hamas attacks were, they came with a backstory: 75 years of dispossession of the land Palestinians called home for centuries, 13 years of a siege of Gaza, the “biggest open air prison in the world,” 90 percent unemployment for Gazan youth, the occupation of the West Bank, near-daily killings of Palestinian civilians (often children), the wanton demolition of Palestinian homes, denial of the right to vote, and increasing attacks by Israeli settlers who daily take more of the land and homes of their Palestinian neighbors. There are pristine roads only for Israelis and pothole-gutted roads only for Palestinians. Is this not apartheid?
Yesterday, I took part in a small, peaceful demonstration in Sag Harbor calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. Our action was continually disrupted by a few people with Israeli flags who stood right next to our speakers. They were screaming at the top of their lungs so that we couldn’t hear the names of the Palestinian children killed by Israeli bombs that were being read out loud.
Do they really think they are protecting Israel by supporting the relentless bombing of civilian families? Israel is turning the whole world against it, as erstwhile supporting governments watch the carnage, aghast. Do they really think committing horrific war crimes against an entire people will lead to lasting peace?
A Palestinian man once told me Israeli Jews were his people’s “cousins.” The only policy that will protect Israelis is one that also protects their Palestinian cousins. It is time for Jews everywhere to recommit to our Jewish values of equal rights and justice for all. These are the values my father taught me. Cease-fire now. Peace now.
Back From the Abyss
November 5, 2023
As Israel pursues its plans, options, world reaction, and consequences to a massive ground invasion of Gaza, it’s still not too late to pull back from the abyss and act on an eternal truism of human history. The fear of shame, humiliation, ridicule and dishonor is one of the most-powerful motives for collective violence and war.
The first recorded history of war, as described in “The Iliad” by Homer, is attributed to the shame that Menelaus felt when a Trojan prince, Paris, dishonored him by running off with his wife, Helen. Both sides — Greeks and Trojans — were willing to commit whole armies and the entire population of a large city to total destruction. Both literally preferred death — mass slaughter of themselves as well as of their enemies — to dishonor.
Examples of wars or terrorist attacks resulting from the wish to undo shame and restore national honor reoccur throughout the bloodied history of humankind. The Israelis and Palestinians should understand this more than most peoples; their many wars and violent confrontation have resulted in continual cycles of escalating violence and little peace. Even in the midst of the heightened anger and rage on both sides
— in the barbarity of the moment — there are still members of both populations who are capable and willing to engage in dialogues across civilizational boundaries that represent the peace parties within each civilization. They understand that retribution and punishment will only lead (as it has over and over again in the past) to increased levels of destruction, barbarity, and violence.
The best the rest of us can do is to encourage these saner voices to pursue and build structures that allow for the healing and redemption, restoration of honor, and respect to two very hurt and traumatized peoples. The response has to be one that encourages both sides to step back from the abyss. It needs to help negotiate an immediate cease-fire that leads to trusting and redemptive polices. It should be a fusion politics of caring and restorative justice for both peoples, while still bringing to justice those responsible for the Hamas attack on innocent individuals.
Ending the siege and occupation would go a long way toward creating the conditions, mind-set, trust, and radical love necessary for a much more just and lasting peace. In reality, it’s the only alternative to the destructive and self-destructive cycle of a fear-based worldview of violence and humiliation that continues to bedevil the human condition and threatens the extinction of us all as a species.
November 5, 2023
New York is under siege by terrorist-loving idiots. We have a pre-K teacher giving lessons of pure hate to preschool children. On this teacher’s Instagram page are pastel-hued posts about the genocidal state of Israel. This teacher is pushing her pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel hate on very young children. She has called Israel a “fascist ethnostate” and is encouraging parents to attend pro-Palestinian rallies.
We also have a stepdaughter of the vice-president who is publicly raising money for Gaza. The fund-raiser has netted over $7 million and being operated by the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund. The homeland security committee said it was just about a guarantee that Hamas terrorists would be able to siphon this cash that enters Gaza.
New York University has hired a notorious Israel-hater to lead a new center dedicated to Indigenous studies. This professor of critical race and Indigenous studies was hired two days after Hamas terrorists massacred 1,400 Israeli civilians. This professor has found common cause with Palestinian terrorism, which includes Hamas’s deadly rampage.
Next we have the dapper mayor of New York doing tons of traveling, trotting off to Honduras and surrounding countries to tell their citizens not to come to New York. He offered nothing to help any part of this situation.
Now Mayor Adams has a problem with his senior campaign fund-raiser. All this is in New York.
Separately, as far as students tearing down the posters of kidnapped victims and cursing at people who caught them, these students claim it’s all propaganda from Israel. It’s a shame they have shit for brains.
In God and country,
Killing Begets Killing
November 5, 2023
The rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia due to the Israel-Palestine conflict comes as a surprise to only the most unconscious of Americans. Lying under the surface, and not too deeply, this retarded hatred of Jews and Arabs is an ever present resentment just waiting to erupt. In a country where too many people don’t know how racist we are and virtually no one knows about the genocide of 16 million Indigenous people, how are we expected to be aware of antisemitism and Islamophobia?
Jews comprise 2.4 percent of the United States population, while 60 percent of religious-based hate crimes are against Jews. Our reality, and most of the world’s, is that we would be happiest if Israel and Palestine disappeared. No one likes the Palestinians and the Jewish story is a well-known, 2,000-year-old saga.
The essential problem is that killing begets more killing, and in a world ruled by ignorant, stupid men, killing is what they know. Israel-Palestine is the byproduct of manipulation and scheming by European elites, glommed together to finally get the Jews out of Europe and screw the Palestinians, who were deemed expendable.
Israel became a dominant economic and military presence. Palestine became a refuge for lost people. Almost everyone living in Palestine grew up in some kind of refugee camp. Oppressed, suppressed by Israel, and abandoned by the Arab world.
This new war is more mindless and absurd than all the others. Hamas killed civilians and took hostages. Barbaric, subhuman, etc., etc. Why? Was there a plan? Some logic that only they possessed?
Israel responded the way Hamas expected: destroying large swaths of Gaza. Killing lots of kids and civilians. Israel did what every country in the world would do.
Netanyahu wants to destroy Hamas and the Palestinians as well. He’s a deeply deranged cretin. Doesn’t want two states. Doesn’t want peace. Hamas wants to destroy Israel. No two states. No peace.
A stalemate. Except Israel can destroy Palestine, but Hamas can’t destroy Israel. In the real world, when the odds are so badly stacked against you, you cut a deal. Unless the well-being of your people doesn’t matter.
Return the hostages and the bombing stops. Stop the bombing and maybe the hostages are released. The taste of blood makes men crazy. Are they capable of making a decision?
When men are too stupid to find solutions to problems, they go to war. They rationalize their behavior and bemoan the pain and misery they cause. They never recognize or accept their stupidity. It’s what makes them stupid in the first place.
When the conflict ends, the world will move on to the next problem. Lots of people will die. Gazans will be even more miserable. Life will continue.
As for the outbreak of antisemitism and Islamophobia, it will diminish slightly but not in a substantive way. Hatred is part of the culture. It is institutional and normal. We try to deal with the economics and the politics but do nothing about the primary source of the problem, which is our religious institutions. Men, not God, are the issue at hand. (See: the new speaker of the House to see what direction we are going.)