Suffolk County says it intends to sue East Hampton Town for removing “large quantities of valuable topsoil” from farmland on Route 114 in East Hampton to which the county owns the development rights. The town was trying to relieve flooding in Hansom Hills, a residential neighborhood directly across the street, by putting in a drainage basin at the farm.
“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,” said Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone in a press release issued late Tuesday afternoon.
“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,” said the Suffolk County planning director, Sarah Lansdale, in the release.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley have said they did not realize at the time that the county had purchased development rights to the land in 1988. According to Ms. Quigley, she and Mr. Wilkinson personally knocked on the door of the property owner to ask for permission to install the drainage basin.
The town issued a stop-work order for the project this summer once it discovered that it needed approval from the County Farmland Committee, and county and town officials met to discuss the details on August 1. Earlier this month, the Town Board discussed how to restore the soil and also alleviate the flooding, with Town Budget Officer Len Bernard estimating that the cost could be $95,000—not including, Ms. Quigley said, another $35,000 in engineering fees. Officials said at the time that the county would be willing to hold off on restoration to incorporate a new design that would improve drainage.
“It certainly isn’t the template for good county municipal relationships for the county to file a lawsuit,” Mr. Wilkinson said on Tuesday, particularly about what he described as an “honest mistake” and “especially when there’s no amount justified for correction.”
Dated September 14, the notice of claim from the county arrived at his office by FedEx late on Monday, the supervisor said, accompanied by what he called a “snippy” greeting from Deputy County Executive John Schneider.
“This whole thing smells political,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “I wonder whether we’re giving someone a chance to ride in on a white horse to save the day.”