It wasn’t the homesteaders versus the cattlemen debate that raged during the 1880s in the American west, but there certainly were echoes of that era during a public hearing July 18 at East Hampton Town Hall on a proposed town code amendment that would require cover crops or other mitigating measures be used on open farmland, particularly in residential areas.
It became an issue after the late winter dust storm that hit Amagansett earlier this year. The dust had kicked up from the acres of open farmland north of Amagansett Main Street.
Jeffrey Bragman, the sponsor of the measure, had worked with the town’s agricultural advisory committee, and had presented it with a draft of the amendment earlier this year. The committee, according to Alex Balsam, a partner at Balsam Farms and a member of the committee, was initially positive when presented with the wording of the amendment. Balsam said he did not fault Bragman, since the committee had not met since the initial board discussion of the amendment June 4, but committee members had never seen the punitive side of the proposed law change.
The law calls for an escalating series of fines for repeat offenders, with up to six months in jail a possibility. “This is going to happen again,” Balsam said, though hopefully not to the same scale as earlier this year. He quoted another farmer, saying, “Farming is a partnership between the farmer and Mother Nature — unfortunately she is a senior partner.”
Several other farmers followed. Bill Babinski questioned the law, as did Peter Dankowski, expressing concern about proposed jail time for what can be a result of natural occurrences. Other farmers spoke, as well.
Residents of Amagansett spoke on the other side of the argument, complaining of the cost of the dust, both in money and health. Michael Cinque, who owns the wine store on Main Street, said he had to replace a condenser, and is still dealing with the dust. Dan Mongan said that he and his neighbors don’t want to see farmers jailed, but solutions need to be found.
Betsy Martin, whose house is adjacent to the open farm field in Amagansett, echoed Mongan’s words on Monday, July 22. “The cover crop is just one tool in the toolbox,” Martin said. “If that is not working, there has to be another answer. We can’t have that kind of dust ever again.”
Bragman said on Monday that the amendment will be modified, with more discussion with the agricultural advisory committee ahead. “Farmers and residents have the same interests. We all want to protect the soils,” Bragman said.