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Letter: County's Actions about Protecting Farmland, Not Politics

Sarah Lansdale says town officials being "disingenuous in that they have demonstrated an unwillingness to come to an appropriate and legal solution."

Dear Editor:  

As Suffolk County’s Director of Planning, I am appalled at the cavalier misstatements made by East Hampton Town officials. I’m writing to set the record straight.

The County is sympathetic to the plight of the residents of the Hansom Hills subdivision and we are convinced that working together, we can find ways to alleviate the flooding. However, we have a responsibility to Suffolk County taxpayers and to the integrity of the farmland preservation program to resolve this issue lawfully.

RELATED: Theresa Quigley Calls County's Actions 'Startling'

So, let’s go over the facts:

What is beyond dispute is that the Town of East Hampton blatantly caused extensive damage to farmland, that was preserved by Suffolk County taxpayers, by removing large quantities of valuable topsoil.  This is the first time in memory that a municipality has unlawfully violated a piece of preserved property. To make matters worse, not only did the Town of East Hampton allow a contractor to excavate the soil, but further permitted him to sell the soil, considered the finest agricultural soil in New York – the “Cadillac” of soil.  Rather than enriching the farm with the soil, the Town chose to enrich someone’s pockets.

This is the only instance anyone at the County can remember in the entire history of the 37-year Purchase of Development Rights program where a municipality blatantly violated the program and then asked the County to turn a blind eye to the law and retroactively approve an illegal action.

Such approval will not be forthcoming.

It has been stated that the County has initiated a lawsuit.  That is not true.  The County has NOT initiated a lawsuit against the Town.  We filed a ‘notice of claim’ to preserve our right in the event the Town continues to be unwilling to rectify their “mistake.” 

It has been stated that the County and Town were in communication for a two year period and “unnamed person” at the County approved the project.  In fact, the Town never reached out the County Department of Planning prior to commencing their action and we only learned of the violation from a third party. 

Although the Town continues to insist they have an easement from the owner, they do not. The person who allegedly signed their document is not the owner of the property.  

It has been stated that the County is unwilling to work with the Town.  The County has always been ready, willing and able to assist the Town in any legal manner, but will not violate the public trust and the law in the process.  The Town is seeking a retroactive approval of an unlawful action.  In fact, the County convened a meeting with the Town on Aug. 1 to explore alternatives, during which it was agreed that the Town would submit lawful alternatives.  We have received none. 

It has also been stated that the Town submitted a proposal over a month ago.  That again is incorrect.  In an attempt to retroactively gain approve of an illegal action and move forward with their plans intact, The Town mailed an application to the County on Sept. 10.

The Town is being disingenuous in that they have demonstrated an unwillingness to come to an appropriate and legal solution.  Not only has the Town Supervisor refused to return my last telephone call placed on Sept. 10, but he has willfully mischaracterized a Deputy County Executive’s invitation to talk, choosing instead to distort the gesture. 

Ironically, the fact that the Town of East Hampton has responded to our notice of claim in such a hostile manner, rather than viewing it as an opportunity to find a compromise, demonstrates the very behavior that necessitated the notice in the first place.

This is not about politics or personalities. This is about protecting the integrity of the Farmland Preservation Program. Let us not forget that Suffolk’s farmland is the most productive farmland in the state, in part due to the quality of the soil, which is considered the finest agricultural soil in the state.  Protecting this unique resource is the mission of the Farmland Preservation Program and the Development Rights process and the County is committed to remaining vigilant in this mission.  

The County stands ready to work with the Town to find a legal solution that maintains the integrity of the program and relieves flooding faced by homeowners of Hansom Hills. I look forward the Supervisor’s return call.

Sarah Lansdale

Suffolk County Director of Planning

Tell us what you think about this situation. Comment below.

Reality Check September 25, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Thank you, P. Loke. Wilkinson, Quigley, and Stanzione are consistent in one aspect: whenever something goes wrong, they lay off responsibility and blame onto everyone but themselves, whether it is trying to sell our Town Docks, or in this case, not practicing due diligence in initiating the 114 sump project. Their dishonesty, their duplicity, and their harsh treatment of Town employees are disgusting traits not befitting elected officials.
Factual September 26, 2012 at 12:19 AM
To P. Loke - I just expect competency from people who are being paid with my tax dollars. There nothing wrong with having an expectation of performance. If you go back a review the articles this project was in the works for well over one year before any contract to do the work was awarded - ONE YEAR.! Is that not enough time for the staff to get everything in order to do the project that would solve a ten year old problem? How long should it take - 2, 3, 4 years to get it done? I hope any investigation looks at EVERYTHIING - there are at least 7 town board resolutions adopted unanimously related to this project that were prepared by the professional staff that the Town Board relies on. I would love to have all those resolutions, what they said, what they allowed, and the supporting documents reviewed. I guess that will tell if the staff work was acceptable. If it proves that the staff work was accurate, complete and thorough I will give credit where credit id do. The documentation, and not anything I say, or you say, or anyone says, will tell the story.
Factual September 26, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Were docks sold? No (a truly bogus issue). Due diligence in this case? Really? Seven Town Board resolutions related to easements, hiring a consulting engineer, adopting the environmental impact statement, and more, were adopted. Taking well over one year from start to hiring a contractor - that is 12 months plus. Meetings with the State DOT, neighbors, property owners, outside engineers, farmers - all taking place during that year - no due diligence? Seriously? After pulling up the resolutions that have been adopted related to this matter (which anyone can do on the town website) I noticed that a resolution was adopted late in the process approving an environmental assessment report I believed prepared by the Planning Department and reviewed by the Town Attorney (who wrote the resolution). I went to the DEC website to see what is on that review form and noticed that the form asks if permits are needed from other agencies (like the county). If the Planning Department and Town Attorney did their job properly wouldn't they have stated that a County approval was needed? I mean it IS the Planning Dept. and Town Attorney's responsibility to complete this review form accurately so the Town Board doesn't approve anything erroneously. How did the Planning Dept and Town Attorney complete this form? Wouldn't this clear up this entire matter? After all the Planning Dept. and Town Attorney had over one year to prepare this form. Any one know about this?
Factual September 27, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Any one know about the Environmental Assessment Report? Ms. Foster, you were a planning official, do you know if that form should indicate whether county approvals or a a permit was required? Since the Planning Dept. and Town Attorney were responsible for the completion of the form and the resolution shouldn't they have indicated a county permit was needed but not yet received? Did you also see that form Ms. Foster, like you saw the internal staff memorandums? What was indicated?
Factual September 29, 2012 at 01:35 PM
As I explore the Environmental Assessment Review Form issue more closely the more I discover THE STAFF should have loudly alerted the Town Board that County issues needed to be addressed. Regardless of what some MAY have THOUGHT others MIGHT be doing, bottom line is the Environmental Assessment Review Form (and Town Board resolution accepting it) prepared by staff should have clearly indicated that County approval was needed but not yet obtained. My question is was the form completed accurately by the staff? Why didn't the staff wave a BIG RED FLAG that the County approval was still missing? Why isn't anyone out there responding to this question? Before you blame Quigley or Wilkinson I think we need to know if the staff work was even complete let alone acceptable. This is not the blame game it is simply whether the process used in every case where the Town Board relies on staff to make sure everything is addressed and complete and resolutions are based on thorough and accurate staff work was done here. If the staff process breaks down, then the entire decision making process gets tainted. To Overby and VanScoyac - in 9 months how many resolution have you approved where you depended on staff work to guarantee what you approved had been fully vetted? Both of you voted to adopt the Environmental Assessment Review Form on this project. If staff had told you County approval was needed before that vote what would you have done? What happened here?

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