The following is East Hampton Town Deputy Supervisor Theresa Quigley's response to the county's notice of claim filed against the town regarding the violation of the county's Farmland Law.
In 2010, Hansom Hills flooded. The town engineer pulled out plans developed under the Schneiderman administration and suggested that we revisit those plans. Apparently, the issue of flooding along the farm fields is a long standing problem caused by the topography of the fields and the lands across the street in the Hansom Hills subdivision.
For years, the rain waters wash across the fields, pooling right where the would- be recharge basin sits, and in really heavy rains, the water breaches Route 114, and floods out the roads and homes of those who live across the road. The location of the would-be recharge basin, we are told, is best suited to its use, because the constant moisture in the would-be recharge basin area makes that entire section of the fields untenable for farming.
In 2010, when the fields flooded again, the town's engineer gave us the 2001 Schneiderman plans and the Town attorney's office was asked to weigh-in. The Town attorney's office advised that all we needed was approval from the land owner. The engineer, the town attorney, and the planning department worked for two years on getting the updated engineering plans, and appropriate approvals necessary to move the project from concept to reality.
I as a town board member communicated regularly with these employees for status updates. When told that they were stuck on trying to get in contact with the owner, I reached out to the owner and got her signature. The various departments advised the proposal was ready to be approved by the Town Board. The entire town board approved the project, and bids for the work were solicited. A bid was accepted and work commenced.
As it turns out, County approval was necessary. The County notified the Town and immediately, the planning, natural resources, engineer, and town attorneys' offices, and I worked on getting appropriate approvals. Our planning director and attorney went to Suffolk County to work on a plan satisfactory to both parties. The County suggested an alternative plan, one unacceptable to the local farmers, as that alternative plan took usable farm fields out of circulation. Further, we were advised that that alternative plan was much more complicated and extensive and would cost significantly more. The County advised that we should submit an application for approval of our plan.
The application was submitted a month ago, and Friday the application was returned, unaccepted, and the lawsuit was received, with a "personal" note to the supervisor written on the back of a business card of a former Tim Bishop staff member, one who has not enjoyed good relations with the Town in the past.
The lawsuit is startling. It is a complete reversal from the Town's immediate attempts to settle the issues with the County once the issue was realized. It is in contradiction to the discussions the Town was having with the County. It is a move that escalates cost, as it sets the County and Town at odds instead of as two governmental bodies working for a solution.
Finally, it is perplexing for, while the County certainly has rights that must and should have been included in the decision, it just as certainly has not taken an active role in the issues of this subdivision and the destruction of the fields and of the property owner's homes in the past. Many years ago, the Hansom Hills homeowners sued for the loss to their property and the Town, as holders of an easement to the property, defended the lawsuit and paid all the damages. The County, as holders of the development rights, contributed nothing to the defense nor to the settlement.
Not only is the lawsuit startling, but the Town's failure in obtaining their approval to begin with is problematic. From my perspective, this failure is symptomatic of many issues in town government. These failures are constant and continual and they point out a system which cries out for reform, but which reform seems almost unattainable without laying down the political rhetoric and defensive postures and simply demanding accountablity at all levels. It is time the system was turned on its head.