Year in Review: Top 10 East End Stories of 2022

The big news stories of 2022
Who could forget the big news stories of 2022?

Ah, 2022.

What a year it’s been. From big name political turnover to the worst drought in decades, the past 12 months have brought some big headlines to the Hamptons and the North Fork.

Here is a look at the top Twin Forks area stories of 2022.

Top 10 East End News Stories of 2022

Lee Zeldin speaks to media outside his polling place in Mastic on Election Day 2022
Lee Zeldin speaks to media outside his polling place in Mastic on Election DayOliver Peterson

ZELDIN LOSES

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who represented the East End since 2015, decided against seeking re-election and instead made a failed gubernatorial bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Although the congressman came up short on Election Day, the Republican originally seen as a longshot turned the race competitive by focusing on the public’s fears of rising crime. Among the examples was a shooting that occurred outside of his own home while his teenage daughters were home and he was out campaigning.

After conceding the election, Zeldin briefly entertained the idea of running to be the next chair of the Republican National Committee, but ultimately opted against it.

Nick LaLota
Nick LaLota

LALOTA WINS

Winning the 1st Congressional District seat that Zeldin left vacant in 2022 was Nicholas LaLota, a Republican former Suffolk County Board of Elections official and ex-Village of Amityville trustee.

LaLota rode the red wave to victory over Suffolk Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), who was making her second run for the seat. He is slated to be sworn in January 3, when he will join the incoming Republican majority taking over the U.S. House of
Representatives.

The district he represents was redrawn this year to include the entire North Shore of Suffolk, plus the East End.

Hackers stole Suffolk data, crippling county operations with ransomware
Hackers stole Suffolk data, crippling county operationsGetty Images

CYBERATTACK INSANITY 

Hackers demanding Suffolk County pay $2.5 million in ransom following the September 8 cyberattack accessed computer networks though the Riverhead-based county clerk’s computers thanks in part to an ex-employee’s illegal bitcoin mining, a report showed.

Officials blamed technical vulnerabilities on a former information technology deputy commissioner who was arrested last year for allegedly installing hidden computers in the clerk’s office in a scheme to mine bitcoin — the process in which cryptocurrency transactions  recorded — and his boss who officials said failed to catch his deputy’s alleged scheme or the ensuing cyberattack partly done in the deputy’s name.

Peter Schlussler, the IT director for the county clerk’s office, was put on paid leave amid the ongoing response and Christopher Naples, the former deputy from Mattituck, was fired after being charged with public corruption, grand larceny, computer trespass, and official misconduct in September 2021. He pleaded not guilty and his case is pending; but nobody has been charged with the attack itself.

Great white shark found washed up in Quogue
Great white shark found washed up in Quogue in JulyCourtesy Quogue Village Police Department

SHARK SUMMER 

Although there were no attacks on the East End, the region was on high alert after an unprecedented six shark attacks reported in three weeks — two of which occurred on the same day — in the waters off Long Island’s beaches had beachgoers, officials and lifeguards on high alert this summer.

The string of bites, none of which proved fatal, comes a year after dozens of shark sightings prompted local officials to step up patrols to alert the public. Several shark sightings off the Hamptons fueled the fear that the attacks, most of which occurred on Fire Island, might come east.

Theories as to why include warming ocean temperatures, water quality improving and an increase in the amount of bunker fish that sharks eat. Experts say sharks typically do not attack humans without provocation, and when they do, it’s usually caused by mistaken identity or fear.

Jars full of dried cannabis will soon fill the shelves of recreational marijuana dispensaries
Jars full of dried cannabis will soon fill the shelves of recreational marijuana dispensariesGetty Images

BUDDING BUSINESS 

New York State regulators gave weed dealers the green light to set up shop, but local municipalities in the East End’s pot district have yet to approve locations establishing the state’s first-ever legal recreational marijuana dispensaries.

Of the 36 licenses that the state Cannabis Control Board (CCB) approved statewide on November 21, six of the winning entities are to do business on Long Island. Only four town governments on Long Island — Riverhead, Southampton, Brookhaven and Babylon — decided not to opt out of allowing pot shops and cannabis cafes to operate within their borders, but none have received paperwork seeking to open brick-and-mortar locations from the new retail licensees.

Delivery, however, is expected to begin in the coming weeks and will not be limited to the towns that opted in, officials say.

Southold Police Southold Town Police
Southold Town Police (Southold Town photo)

CHIEF TROUBLES 

The Southold Town Board unanimously reinstated Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley on October 23 after he was suspended for quashing community complaints about a large party two years ago.

While the top cop is back on the job, four other town employees remain subjects of an ongoing investigation that could result in disciplinary action pending hearings to be adjudicated by the town board at a later date.

The complaints police ignored were about a large group of people attending a retirement party for then-Sgt. Steven Zuhoski, in violation of New York State social distancing mandates that were in effect during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Flatley will retire in 2024 under the terms of his reinstatement.

Community Housing Fund could bring more like the Riverview Lofts, a $56.8 million affordable housing development built on a site in Riverhead that was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy in 2012, opened in March 2021
Riverview Lofts, a $56.8 million affordable housing development built on a site in Riverhead opened in March 2021.

TAX TIME 

East End voters approved a proposal in 2022 to create a new real estate tax to form the Community Housing Fund that will enable local governments to financially support affordable housing projects.

The referendum passed in four of the five Twin Forks towns. Riverhead did not have the measure up for a vote, but can choose to do so in the future. The CHF enacts a 0.5% real estate transfer tax on property sales.

The idea is modeled after the Community Preservation Fund, which created a 2% real estate tax 20 years ago that enables local governments to preserve open space.

East End farmers have to irrigate their crops more due to the drought, especially sod farms
East End farmers have to irrigate their crops more due to the drought, especially sod farmsGetty Images

HIGH AND DRY

A lack of rainfall on led to a severe drought on the East End, which had a ripple effect across the region in 2022.

The Suffolk County Water Authority warned that too many homeowners increased the amount of sprinkler usage to compensate, which strained the water system. And farmers saw some produce grow to smaller sizes as a result of the conditions.

But North Fork vineyards were happy, as droughts are known to produce above-average wines. And the region’s new marijuana farmers found the crop also fared well in dry weather.

The South Fork remained in a moderate drought and the North Fork continued to be abnormally dry as of December 20, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

An 11-year-old child was struck and killed by a truck in Sagaponack on Thursday evening
Getty Images

FATAL FIRE

An early morning Noyac house fire in August proved fatal for two sisters from Maryland who were on vacation with their family, who are suing after questions rose about whether the home was up to safety codes.

Officers responded to the 1,624-square-foot, two story, three-bedroom home at 3 Spring Lane and found it fully engulfed with three people who had escaped the blaze. The victims of the fire were sisters 19-year-old Jillian Wiener and Lindsay Wiener, 21, while their parents, Lewis and Alisa Wiener (60 and 52), and brother Zachary, 23, survived.

The father awakened to the sound of glass breaking and alerted the family to get out, after which he and his wife escaped the house. When they realized the children hadn’t exited the home, the father attempted to re-enter the burning structure, but the flames prevented him from gaining access, according to police.

East Hampton Airport sign
East Hampton Airport (James J. Mackin)James J. Mackin

AIRPORT ACRIMONY 

It was another year of high-flying drama for East Hampton Airport in 2022.

The Town of East Hampton tried to close and then reopen the airport this spring in a ploy to enact new flight restrictions. The plan drew seven lawsuits filed by more than 30 plaintiffs combined. One of those lawsuits was dropped last month after a Suffolk County court judge issued an injunction, which the town is appealing, that bars East Hampton town from temporarily closing the airport to enact its new rules without first performing an environmental review.

The town is now planning an environmental review in a bid to revive its plan.

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