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Suffolk Serves Notice To Sue East Hampton Town

County says town violated county farmland law with unlawful excavation of soil, sand and clay; supervisor calls lawsuit a "political set-up."

In an unusual move, Suffolk County recently filed a notice of claim to sue East Hampton Town, alleging that the town unlawfully excavated prime agricultural soil in a project off Route 114 in East Hampton.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, County Executive Steve Bellone's office said the town officials violated the county's Farmland Law and its development rights on agricultural property. The county also claims the town caused extensive damage by removing large quantities of valuable topsoil from a property the county had purchased development rights to in 1988.

The town was trying to resolve a severe flooding issue in the Hansom Hills subdivision across the farm, something the Wilkinson administration began tackling in 2010, by installing a recharge basin, as part of an approximately $300,000 project.

More than five feet of soil, sand and clay were removed during the installation, the county said in a statement. This summer, the town realized it would need permission from the county's Farmland Committee to take on the project.

“The unlawful excavation and removal of topsoil rendered the land in question unusable for farming and substantially diminished the value of the land, which was paid for by Suffolk County taxpayers,” Bellone said in a statement. “We believe the flooding issue can be addressed without alienating farmland and at far less cost to the taxpayers.”

Wilkinson called the situation "an honest mistake." He said he received two phone calls from the county in recent weeks, which he said he returned, but the two sides played phone tag. "There was no working with us," he said.

Asked how the town would rectify its mistake, Wilkinson said he would defer to the town's attorneys.

"To me, this sounds like a pure political set-up. To me this sounds like it's a set up for someone to ride in on a white horse," he said.

Wilkinson noted there were no claims for damages. He also said East Hampton-area farmers were in support of the town's attempt to fix the longtime flooding issue.

On Monday afternoon, he received a copy of the notice of claim via FedEx with a business card from Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider with a note on the back that read, "Dear Supervisor Wilkinson, Best Regards" and was signed with his name. "I found the note to be totally distasteful," Wilkinson said, adding that he left a message for Bellone on Tuesday that went unreturned.

Former town supervisor and County Legis. Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, said he doesn't recall a similar instance where the town was sued by the county.

Schneiderman said he was going to appear before the Farmland Committee to speak about the flooding issues in the subdivision, when he was told the county had sent the application and its check back to the town. He said he was told the town hadn't filed an easement it received on the property.

"I'm certainly sympathetic to the need to address the flooding in the Sulky Circle neighborhood and I want to do anything I can do expedite the process," he said. "I am a little bit concerned that we'll go through another winter without proper drainage."

However, he said the committee has some questions, as does he, about the design of the drainage system — whether it is designed to take road run-off or not, which the program does not allow for. "It's not somebody's subjective opinion," he said.

Suffolk County Director of Planning Sarah Lansdale said in a statement, "There are much cheaper and more environmentally sound ways to resolve the flooding issue than by hauling away for sale some of the finest agricultural soil in the State of New York."

“It’s unfortunate that the flooding issue was not addressed by the Town at the time the subdivision was created,” said Lansdale. “We believe the residents of the subdivision and the taxpayers of both East Hampton Town and Suffolk County will be better served by a simpler and less costly solution.”

Paul Tenyenhuis, District Manager, Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District, who works closely with the USDA on local erosion and flooding issues agreed. In a statement he said, “The drainage basin the Town wants to install would attempt to collect all the run-off water in one location, whereas accepted farming practices, such as planting a winter cover crop, changing the direction in which crop rows are planted or terracing would go a long way to reducing and eliminating the problem.”

Jeffrey Card September 18, 2012 at 10:28 PM
stupidest project ever done!
Carole Campolo September 18, 2012 at 10:53 PM
I think the Town of East Hampton needs to make a $10,000 contribution to Tim Bishop's re-election campaign immediately to make this all go away. Tim, what do you say?
Evan Rofheart September 18, 2012 at 11:10 PM
It seems that the Town has not been able to do anything right for many years now. What we need are less "businesspeople" and political hacks running things and more regular folks in charge.
Walter Noller September 18, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Politicians throwing dirt at each other... Go Figya!!
Carole Campolo September 18, 2012 at 11:53 PM
The Town of East Hampton''s previous Town Board,of Bill Wilkinson, Theresa Quigley, Dominick Stanzione, Pete Hammerle and Julia Prince, in a bi-partisan manner, saved the town from fiscal ruin, Mr. Rofheart. They also reduced your taxes and made the out of control government somewhat more manageable. There is a lot of work still left to be done as is evidenced by this sorry tale.
Preliator September 19, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Once again the East End will be a piggy bank for the crook from western Suffolk.
Walter Noller September 19, 2012 at 02:57 AM
What a bunch of crud. Five feet of topsoil removed from an area so as to make the roadway safe for all traffic and, in doing so, deminishes the amount of road debris from entering said land, thereby lessening the pollution on the land and this is a "bad thing"? That and the 20/20 hindsight that states it could have been done for less money makes the county's stance nothing more than a politically motivated bunch of manure.
Evan Rofheart September 19, 2012 at 02:59 AM
I don't know who you are Carole, I never heard of you, I wasn't talking to you. I graduated EHHS in 1975, do I know you? Or should I know you? Are you a political hack? Why did you respond to me? Was I asking you a question? For your information, I don't much care for politicians of any kind. If they want to be "king" I don't much trust them, if they tell me they are a great businessman, I think that means a great thief, if they say they are working for me, I think they are working for themselves. Carole, who are YOU working for?
SadderBudweiser September 19, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Once again a Town Supervisor doesn't do his homework.
Jimbo September 19, 2012 at 11:37 AM
No, stupidist goes purchase of Dayton/Keys island (sand bar) for $3.8 million! Cliff laughed all the way to the bank!!!!!!!
Sandman September 19, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Does anyone know who has the valuable prime soil now? Was it gifted? Purchased and for what? Anyone know who the actual person is who took it away? Was this a contract put out to bid? All of these years and suddenly this is such a huge priority in such a rush that the proper procedures were not followed...again! This particular tabloid doesnt always give the full details when they are not favorable to the supervisor and is usually flooded with one sided comments from his hacks so beware!
Kevin Gray September 19, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Evan, I don't know you but you posted your opinion and one can expect other opinions...my opinion is your an idiot.
bonacbill September 19, 2012 at 02:19 PM
Once again the Board didn't do their homework and now have left us taxpayers open to a lawsuit. I guess that could potentially be more than any tax savings they gave us! Sloppy.
pat September 19, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Again, town doesn't do its homework, research properly, and we get "poor, pitiful me" from a government that should know better. Sloppy is right.
Reality Check September 19, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Keith Grimes was the lowest bidder for the job and part of his bid gave him the right to take away all the soil. He was as far as I know the only bidder who made the agricultural soils part of his deal.
Carole Campolo September 20, 2012 at 03:54 AM
Mr. Rofheart, I don't know who you are either. I assume you are using your real name, because I am. I have posted on this site, may times, so I guess you don't read it often. But, you made a statement that the town has not done anything right for years, or something to that affect. Since this is an open forum, I commented back disagreeing with you. No need to be so angry and if calling me names makes you feel better, go right ahead buddy. But, I didn't blaspheme you, I just made a simple comment. If you don't like politicians, that is your choice. But, if you make a comment, that is not correct on a public forum, we can all comment as to where we think you are incorrect.
Taylor K. Vecsey (Editor) September 20, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Please read Theresa Quigley's Op-Ed on the matter here: http://patch.com/A-xT2r
David Buda September 21, 2012 at 01:17 PM
As any attorney should know, a Notice of Claim is not a lawsuit but rather a legal prerequisite that must be timely filed to prevent loss of the statutory right to sue a governmental entity pursuant to various Claims Acts that abrogated sovereign immunity. A municipality must be given written notice of a claim within 90 days of its occurrence. So, I don't understand why some of our politicians are throwing a fit. I take the personal note on the business card to be another way of simply saying "It's nothing personal, just a legal necessity." How about publishing the Notice of Claim for all to read? David Buda
Factual September 24, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Along with the sarcastic note from the Deputy County Executive who coincidentally used to be Tim Bishops staff director (or some other staff title).
Factual September 24, 2012 at 12:14 AM
I doubt it. I don't think the three feet of topsoil is worth $5 million or so. Also, the lawsuit that will now not be filed against the town by the homeowners who have suffered years of damage probably would dwarf anything the County would extort from the Town.

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