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Wainscott v. World

Wed, 02/03/2021 - 18:18


It was expected but is still disappointing that a small group of Wainscott property owners is suing East Hampton Town over an agreement to allow an offshore wind farm cable to be laid along an underground route to join the electric grid some miles away. In separate votes, the town board and town trustees each granted necessary approvals for the project. But the courts are not the only way by which the Wainscott group hopes to block the cable; their effort to create an incorporated village out of a portion of the hamlet will reach a critical point tomorrow when the town will invite public comment on a required petition.

All along, it has been difficult to accept at face value that the motive to carve out a new village was the wind farm cable alone. It is probably true that some of the village idea’s backers are truly afraid of a lengthy construction period and electromagnetic fields, but it is also obvious that other concerns are at play as well. Among these are the fate of East Hampton Airport and the redevelopment of a large sand mine and industrial site north of Montauk Highway. Limiting public use of the ocean beaches at Beach Lane and Town Line Road also figures in, as does potentially cutting off four-wheel-drive access to Georgica Pond across the beach, something that has been the source of friction between property owners in the Georgica Association and the town trustees in the past.

Also somewhere in the mix has to be the longstanding belief among some shorefront property owners that the three stone jetties to the east of the pond are responsible for a sharp narrowing of the beach that continually threatens houses. A new village board might want to wiggle out of the town’s currently restrictive policies on erosion to protect hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oceanfront real estate. Wainscott is at present in a town-managed zone in which no new stone, steel, or concrete revetments can be installed in an effort to maintain beaches for public use, as well as environmental concerns. It is reasonable to suspect that, as sea level rises and more upland is claimed by the ocean, there could be pressure on a new village’s officials to loosen restrictions, with the inevitable loss of beach that so-called hard structures would assure. “Follow the money” in Wainscott’s case would seem to be a key.

There may also be an unexplained factor in the Covid-19 pandemic. Surprising to report, Wainscott has the highest rate of positive cases on the South Fork by far. What this suggests is that the population figure used by public health authorities — and the village backers in thinking about incorporation — is faulty. On the basis of cases per 1,000 people, Wainscott’s rate this week was over 350. The next highest was Flanders, with fewer than half as many cases per 1,000. The incorporation petition’s validity will be determined based on a percentage of registered voters, but what the Covid-19 numbers tell us is that there is a lot that is not known about who actually lives there. It would seem unwise to rush incorporation under these conditions. Whatever one’s view on Wainscott’s future, accurate population figures and an examination of this statistical outlier should be prerequisites for taking incorporation to a vote.

Many of the people who reject the idea of a Wainscott village describe its backers as suffering from a bad case of Nimby, that is, not in my backyard, but to push this hard over an underground cable just doesn’t add up. There are far too many unanswered questions and potentially hidden agendas.

What is strangest of all is how the cable opposition-cum-village incorporation group members square all of this with climate change and their often-stated support for alternative energy. With the effects of the warming planet already being seen from California wildfires to sudden shifts in the distribution of fish in the North Atlantic and famine and social displacement abroad, everyone must share in combating the global threat — their seeking to foist their part onto someone else is unconscionable.

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