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Jan 31, 2012 2:20 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Group Outlines Plans For Peconic Institute

Mar 6, 2012 12:38 PM

A group of environmentally minded East End residents and political leaders is now working on a mission statement for the Peconic Institute, a new sustainability organization expected to be founded later this year.

The committee was created as part of a court settlement that was reached last year after former Stony Brook Southampton students sued Stony Brook University after the educational institution pulled the plug on most undergraduate programs offered at its Shinnecock Hills campus, the majority of which focused on environmental sustainability. The State Supreme Court stipulated that the university must provide $5,000 for a sustainability conference at Stony Brook Southampton in 2013. The idea to create a Peconic Institute developed from that plan, according to Laura Stephenson, the executive assistant for State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who is spearheading the Peconic Institute’s formation.

The Peconic Institute, which will serve all five East End towns, aims to enhance the region’s rural character and natural resources by hosting forums and conducting research. It also will offer educational programs, seminars, public conferences, policy discussions and leadership development initiatives, according to a draft of its mission statement.

The group’s steering committee includes Mr. Thiele, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, Suffolk County Legislator Edward P. Romaine, East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach, and others. The mission statement subcommittee is led by Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy and Southampton resident Ken Komoski. The plan is to complete the mission statement by the end of February, Ms. Stephenson said.

A subcommittee of environmentalists, concerned citizens and political leaders is also busy mapping out the Peconic Institute’s finances, with the goal of creating a non-profit and officially launching this spring. It is unclear how much money the institute will need to operate, though Ms. Stephenson said the group hopes to draw funding from both the public and private sectors.

Organizers met for the first time in November, and that meeting attracted about 180 people, according to Mr. Thiele. Another smaller meeting was held last Thursday, January 26, for about 80 people who are working on the organization’s mission statement.

“We think it’s a way to take a regional approach to solving community problems,” Mr. Thiele said of the new organization. “It’s a way to involve the state university in part of that. More importantly, I think we think it’s a way to make the economy and create jobs out here, and to be an advocate of our region of Long Island, which, if we don’t scream the loudest, tends to be overlooked when the future of Long Island is being planned in places like Hauppauge and Mineola.”

At least one group is objecting to the creation of the Peconic Institute. Mr. Thiele said that a few members of the local Tea Party, organized by Amagansett resident Lynda Edwards, attended last week’s meeting to protest its creation.

In a letter emailed to The Press this week, Ms. Edwards explained that she was concerned that the Peconic Initiative was linked to Agenda 21, a comprehensive United Nations measure drawn up in 1992 that aims for global environmental preservation. She also stated that she thinks that the rights of property owners could potentially be “endangered” if the organization is allowed to move forward.

“The mission statement of the Peconic Institute lays out their plan to regulate, through education, ‘necessary regional infrastructure,’” Ms. Edwards wrote in her email. “When asked if they would include a statement to protect private property rights, the response was, ‘That is too strong’ … Eventually, we may lose our ability to govern ourselves as regional control would supersede locally elected officials.”

Mr. Thiele said everyone has the right to participate in the formation of the institute and is entitled to his or her own opinion. But, he added, “you don’t get to have your own set of facts.”

“They will continue to be encouraged to participate,” he added, referring to the Tea Party protesters. “The whole idea of the institute is that it be a laboratory for ideas. It may be that their viewpoints on things are not going to be agreed to in all cases. That doesn’t mean they can’t be and shouldn’t be part of the process.”

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