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Oct 22, 2013 3:10 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Town Board, Suffolk County Legislature Candidates Face Off

Oct 22, 2013 5:29 PM

The four East Hampton Town Board candidates debated emergency shoreline protection, airport funding and noise, an array of quality-of-life issues, and even the phenomenon of walk-on resolutions at a debate on Monday night.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, held at the Emergency Services Building in East Hampton Village and recorded by LTV for airing on local cable, the debate was characterized by calm, civil answers and moved swiftly from question to question.

To a query about the best solution to protect Montauk’s beaches and downtown from future storms—a hot topic of late, with the town pressed for time to pick one of several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-designed projects before federal funding goes elsewhere—the two Democratic candidates, former Councilman Job Potter and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, said they favor soft solutions.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez noted that Army Corps cost estimates have yet to come in, but said that people come to Montauk for its expansive beaches: “If they want to put their blanket on top of the next person, they’d go to Jones Beach—they wouldn’t come out to Montauk.”

Mr. Potter added that he believes in long-term planning over 30 or 40 years to prepare for sea-level rise and called it a shame that the town has not hired a coastal engineer to advise the town through the process.

Fred Overton, the town clerk, who is running on the Republican line, said he initially supported a plan that calls for a rock wall buried by sand, but now, after listening to a presentation by coastal experts at a recent Concerned Citizens of Montauk meeting who strongly advised against rock walls, he said he thinks he could consider geotextile tubing, a softer option that the Town Board just last week asked the Army Corps to consider.

Dominick Stanzione, a Republican and the only incumbent in the race, did not state outright a preferred option, but did say that if the Army Corps offers only the rock option as a possible solution, it would be a “difficult decision.” He also said the town hopes the Corps comes back with an opportunity to use geotextile materials.

As he would do periodically throughout the evening, Mr. Stanzione thanked outgoing Republican Supervisor Bill Wilkinson profusely for his efforts and said that this decision in Montauk will be made under the supervisor’s leadership.

Addressing questions about quality-of-life issues, such as mental health services and affordable housing—issues that the Democrats have campaigned on throughout this season—Mr. Stanzione repeatedly pointed to the massive financial debacle that the current Republican administration inherited, and which became a priority. He also emphasized his authorship of the town’s comprehensive deer management plan, as well as its comprehensive wastewater management plan, still in the works.

In terms of East Hampton Airport in Wainscott, a source of numerous noise complaints and controversy over whether continuing to accept Federal Aviation Administration funds will prevent the town from claiming more local control, Mr. Overton and Mr. Stanzione, the board’s airport liaison, stated clearly their opposition to closing it and their willingness to accept the funds. Mr. Overton added that to tame noise, different routes or quieter helicopters may work.

The Democrats, meanwhile, said they preferred further studies. Mr. Potter said that as of now he is opposed to accepting the funds. He said he believes the town should have as much control over the airport as possible, and that gaining the ability to regulate what times helicopters come in might help with noise. He also noted that the opinions about whether accepting FAA funds affects the town’s ability to control the airport varies with which attorneys are hired to study the issue.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said she is not looking to close the airport but would like to let the FAA grant assurances set to expire at the end of next year run out. A business plan and technical noise studies are needed, and curfews should be considered, she said.

Walk-on resolutions, which as recently as last week popped up late into a Town Board meeting, leading to political disagreements, were another topic. Ms. Burke-Gonzalez said they may have to happen at times but should be used sparingly, and that agendas should be posted online well in advance of meetings, which they are not currently.

Mr. Potter spoke of the board needing to be careful about pulling surprises and pointed to a recent walk-on to hire an engineer “to study a fence at the airport.” Mr. Stanzione rebutted this by saying that an airport fence has been discussed for a year and that he was happy that the board majority considered the resolution. It was no surprise, he said, and neither was a walk-on resolution at the meeting last week, also put forth by his party, to amend the focus of beach reconstruction solutions in Montauk.

Mr. Overton, meanwhile, offered a unique perspective based on his current position in Town Hall, saying he is concerned because the Town Board members have failed to get their resolutions and other items necessary to develop the agenda to his office in a timely manner. “The council people don’t do their job,” he said. He said it’s hard to make promises of transparency without their cooperation. “I will do what I can to correct that when I’m elected,” he said.

In closing statements, Ms. Burke-Gonzalez, who points to her Springs School Board leadership as preparing her to serve the town, talked of working together to address serious issues like the coastline, ground and surface waters, and local control of the airport.

Mr. Overton said the board already has two Democrats and does not need two more.

Mr. Stanzione said he is running on his record and is also concerned about a Democratic majority, noting the financial destruction brought about the last time the Democrats held the majority, which resulted in arrests.

Mr. Potter said he believes it does not matter what party one belongs to and that the town should reenergize its Community Preservation Fund and affordable housing efforts, among others.

Schneiderman, Nuzzi Debate

Also facing off at the debate were Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who is seeking a sixth and final term, and his challenger, Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi.

Mr. Schneiderman, a former East Hampton Town supervisor who is running on the Independence, Democratic and Working Families party lines, spoke to his record and highlighted his achievements during his decade in office, including preserving land and extending Sunday bus service.

Mr. Nuzzi, who is running on the Republican and Conservative party lines, pointed a finger at Mr. Schneiderman for the county’s fiscal issues. Mr. Schneiderman noted that the county’s budget relies on sales taxes, which, unlike the towns whose budgets rely on property taxes, took a hit in the recession.

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It is really difficult to see how Chris Nuzzi, with a singularly undistinguished Town Board record in a town (Southampton) regrettably known for undistinguished records, can hope to unseat Jay Schneiderman, who has been a conscientious and effective County Legislator for ten years.

Jay Schneiderman is a living argument against term limits, which will unfortunately make this his last term in Hauppauge. He only gets better as the years pass. From acquiring open space and promoting affordable ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1966), Quiogue on Oct 22, 13 3:31 PM
If you're happy with Jay's performance and feel like he's been there for us, then Turkey Bridge, you'll be thrilled with Chris Nuzzi. Honest, hard working, a what's right is right attitude..... You may not always agree with him, but you will always know where he stands. And, he won't be changing party affiliations with each run for a particular office. Maybe Jay will decide to run for EH Supervisor, again, as a Republican, again.
By mlynnking (4), East Hampton on Oct 22, 13 4:05 PM
Beware of tricky "Helicopter Dom" Stanzione. Time to clean house.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Oct 22, 13 4:29 PM
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