Shinnecock Tribe Wants Billboards

Plans for two Shinnecock Indian Nation billboards depict the structures being 61 feet tall with the tribal seal at the top, an electronic display of an ad in the middle, and the time and temperature at the bottom. Independent/Courtesy Southampton Town

Plans currently underway to erect two double-sided, 61-foot electronic signs on the north and south side of Sunrise Highway between exits 65 and 66 were met with a cease-work order by Southampton Town April 26.

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, who presented plans to state, have not received approval for construction, and never notified Southampton Town, according to Public Safety and Emergency Management Administrator Steven Troyd.

The land where the signs are being built is part of the Westwoods property, which at one time was being looked at for construction of a casino. Troyd said the town owns the property that abuts the tribal land, and that it’s not part of the reservation.

“It’s a different type of parcel,” Troyd said. “They don’t believe the town zoning applies to their property because of their sovereignty, but that land was given back to the tribe in the early 1800s and is separate and distinct from the tribal land. There were some rulings made about that land when there was consideration for it to be turned into a casino.”

The town attorney’s office as of Monday was looking into the matter, and had yet to make a determination. Town attorney James Burke could not be reached for comment by press time.

Troyd added there are also federal highway safety laws concerning outdoor advertising, and that there needs to be a minimal distance maintained from the side of the highway he believes these structures do not adhere to.

“I don’t think the town would allow a 60-foot monument to be built,” said Troyd, who added members of the Shinnecock Nation are calling the billboards “monuments,” he believes, because they are adorned with the tribal seal. “It’s also inconsistent with the character of the town, especially the billboard aspect.”

The public safety administrator said he’s also concerned about the Dark Sky ordinance.

“Will this be on all night long illuminating the houses behind it?” Troyd asked. “It will definitely impact the night sky. I’m also concerned with driver distraction, and that’s why the Federal Highway Administration has these laws, to ensure that there aren’t these problems.”

He said the U.S. Attorney General’s office might be the conduit for reaching the FHA, and is also waiting for the state to weigh in. While Troyd said he hasn’t had to deal with the state on highway related matters, he believes the state is “for the most part, very responsive.”

In the meantime, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and other town officials met with the tribe to ask them not to erect the billboards. In a letter to the tribe, town board struck a conciliatory tone, asking the tribe to reconsider, but it added it was ready to take “all lawful means to resist such a significant and potentially damaging assault on the town.”

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