With the holiday season now in the rearview mirror and the new year presenting a clean slate, the possibilities remain endless for the future of the East End and its residents.
But some local news in the Hamptons and on the North Fork will not require a crystal ball to predict. Here are 10 local Twin Forks stories to watch in 2022.
EAST HAMPTON AIRPORT
The long-running debate over the East Hampton Airport should finally come to a resolution this year, although if history is any guide, a lawsuit is likely to follow whatever that resolution may be.
At issue is what the Town of East Hampton will do now that it was freed in September of Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances that mandated that the airport in Wainscott be kept open. Business leaders maintain that it is critical to the local economy, while environmentalists argue that it should be closed due to ground and noise pollution. The East Hampton Town Board has signaled its intent to find middle ground with the idea to temporarily close the airport, which would allow it to reopen with restrictions on types of aircraft and time.
How long will the airport need to be closed and will the plan actually satisfy both sides? Stay tuned.
The Shinnecock Indian Nation made a big splash last summer when it announced that it was rolling the dice on its third bid to build a casino.
Just like last time, the plan sparked uproar from neighbors concerned about how it would add to already traffic-choked roads on the South Fork, especially during the busy tourist season. But the Shinnecock, fresh off of a fight with New York State over building a pair of electronic billboards that he tribe dubbed monuments on both sides of Route 27, has said construction will move ahead on its Southampton reservation. It plans to use the revenue to help members of the Nation in need.
Like Long Island’s only other gaming facility, Jake’s 58 in Islandia, the Shinneock casino would only be slot machines and electronic table games with no live dealers. Whether the project will advance in time for it to reopen as planned next year is anyone’s bet.
While federal officials recently told Dan’s Papers that the long-stalled Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) storm flooding mitigation project would not reach the East End for another year or two, potential costly court battles loom before construction crews arrive.
Attorneys for wealthy Hamptons oceanfront property owners who will be asked to provide for FIMP easements — a legal right of way allowing crews to perform work on private property — may fight such requests. Hundreds of easements are required to advance the project. If negotiations break down, cases can go to court under eminent domain, the legal process in which the government acquires private property for public use.
The first phase of the $1.7 billion project kicked off in December off Fire Island more than a half century after it was first proposed.
ISLAND WATER PARK DEBUT?
Island Water Park, an extreme water sports park that is being built on a 46-acre plot in Calverton, was supposed to open last year, two decades after it was first proposed.
Now, with the project underway, it appears that 2022 could be the year East Enders finally see Island Water Park open for business, offering bumper boats, water slides, a surf pool and other amenities. It would be the first water park to open in the region since Splish Splash debuted in 1991.
As the current and ongoing winter surge of COVID-19 cases has shown, the coronavirus pandemic is not going away anytime soon.
Suffolk County saw nearly 4,000 new cases diagnosed on January 3, which was another day of near record-highs as Long Island’s seven-day average percentage of positive test results reported over the prior three days topped 25%, according to state health data.
While widespread vaccinations have helped mitigate the severity of cases for many people, the statewide hospitalization rate is now as bad as the first wave of the pandemic.
Now that the towns of Southampton, Riverhead and Brookhaven became three of only four on Long Island — the other being Babylon — to allow recently legalized recreational marijuana dispensaries to open, it’s only a matter of time before part of the East End becomes LI’s weed district.
While all eyes are on the state’s Cannabis Control Board, which is tasked with regulating and licensing such facilities — something that may not happen until next year — the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s planned Little Beach Harvest dispensary in Southampton may open first since it’s being built on the tribe’s reservation, which is sovereign land.
SAG HARBORFRONT SAGA
The ongoing debate over how to best utilize the Village of Sag Harbor’s waterfront — an issue that dominated its elections and resulted in a change of mayoral leadership last summer — is sure to continue making waves. The village board is slated to take up the issue at its January meeting. And after that, Bay Street Theater’s plans to build a new waterfront playhouse will continue to take center stage as local leaders map out the future of the community’s famed waterfront.
TRUCK BEACH TROUBLE
Truck Beach, a strip of Napeague oceanfront that the courts ruled last year is private and not open to the public, will continue to catch headlines now that fishermen protesting the decision have found themselves facing trespassing charges before a Suffolk judge.
Critics argue that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent. Attorneys for the homeowners argue fishermen were never legally allowed to drive on the beach. And the town has threatened to condemn the land to turn it back over to the public.
Who will win? Nobody knows.
Environmentalists cheered the offshore South Fork Wind farm winning federal approval, but some Wainscott homeowners continue to fight the plan to bring the cable ashore in the residential community. This is another one winding its way through the courts. Work crews may have been mobilized this month, but opponents are asking the court to halt work until a related suit can be heard in a bid to move the cable to an uninhabited area. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a speedy resolution, as even before the lawsuit the project’s completion was years away.
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) becoming the GOP gubernatorial frontrunner against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul this Election Day triggers a local political domino effect. Regardless of whether Zeldin wins, if he stays the course onto the top of the Republican ticket this fall, he’ll be vacating his congressional seat representing the East End. That means the region will get its first new member of Congress since he was elected in 2015.
Among the Democrats who already announced plans to run for Zeldin’s congressional seat are Suffolk County Legislature Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac). If she vacates her seat to see that race through, the South Fork will also be getting its first county lawmaker since 2015. Candidates to potentially replace her have yet to emerge.