It Only Takes A Village

They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. A group of civic leaders in the hamlet of Wainscott are actively exploring incorporation — in essence seceding from East Hampton Town.

Residents are upset over a number of events that they say are indicative of town policies that invariably are disruptive to them and hurt their property values.

In addition to the ongoing presence of the East Hampton Airport and the noise complaints that come with it, last year the Suffolk County Water Authority announced that tests revealed some of the hamlet’s drinking wells are contaminated.

In recent months, Wainscott residents also learned the hamlet’s only ocean beach may be disturbed if Deepwater Wind brings its electric cable ashore on Beach Lane for its proposed offshore wind farm. The cable will then be buried underground through several main roads in Wainscott.

The Independent has also learned LIPA intends to build a new substation in Wainscott. (See story in the In-Depth news section).

That was the final straw for some residents who have formally decided to explore pulling the hamlet out of East Hampton Town and setting up a village. The feeling persists that, historically, town government has never cared about its smallest hamlet.

“They’ve always used Wainscott as a dumping ground,” said Si Kinsella, who has emerged as a leader of the incorporation movement. “We’re fed up with it. [Incorporating] will give us an element of control and independence.”

Kinsella already had a sit-down with Donald Louchheim, the mayor of Sagaponack Village. East Hampton Village Mayor Paul Rickenbach has yet to meet with anyone from Wainscott but expects to do so if the incorporation movement gets wings.

“All things considered, with all the stuff going on there, it would make sense. They have a clear right of determination,” Rickenbach said.

Should Wainscott be successful, it would be contiguous with East Hampton Village and Sagaponack, setting up the possibility of shared services such as police and fire protection.

The Town of East Hampton would be in the crosshairs should Wainscott incorporate. Residents are on the hook for the cost of filtration systems for their water wells and the cost of piping in public water in the future. Though the town has agreed to front the costs, it intends to recoup by creating a special tax district. Even if the class action suit filed by Wainscott residents is a success, the town could merely raise taxes to pay for the cost of absorbing the improvements.

Not so if the incorporation effort succeeds, said Joseph Prokop of Central Islip, an incorporation specialist who successfully guided West Hampton Dunes, Mastic Beach, and others through the process.

“I’m familiar with Wainscott. I lived there when I worked for [East Hampton] town. You look at one side of Town Line Road, and there is so much wealth. But Wainscott has always been kicked around,” Prokop said. He said that would change in a hurry should the incorporation path be followed to its ultimate destination.

“Right now, you don’t have equal representation,” Prokop said. “But this way, it would be two equals, two governments.”

In a perfect world, a district no bigger than five square miles and with 500 people could become a village by gathering petitions equal to 20 percent of the registered voters within the proposed geographical area. The town supervisor would be in charge of validating the signatures, Prokop said. After that, there would be a district-wide vote.

“It sounds simple, but it can be highly technical,” Prokop opined. “There are a lot of overlays.”

Zach Cohen, who intends to run for the town board, said that though the Wainscott Fire District and School District encompass more than five square miles, a recent map drawn up that shows the Wainscott properties tested for contamination fits the bill for a five-square-mile max nicely — until the town decided to expand the testing area.

Wainscott is not the only East End hamlet mulling incorporation.

An East Quogue Village Exploratory Committee has formed and already held one public hearing on May 21. Former Southampton Town Supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney is a member.

The EQVEC has retained the services of Bee Ready et al LLC to aid this committee with navigating the process to achieve village status. The firm specializes in municipal law, including election law like a potential village incorporation vote.

Organizers are making no bones about it: the recent decision by the Southampton Town Board to turn down Discovery Land’s request to build Southampton Hills, a luxury housing community centered around a golf club in East Quogue, is the main impetus. Though voters town-wide were against the project, East Quogue residents supported it.

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