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Southampton Town Will Keep Water Protection Plan Local, Drop Proposal In Its Present Form

Erin McKinley

The Southampton Town Board has opted against moving forward with a proposed Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, instead choosing to incorporate many aspects of the proposal into the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

On Tuesday afternoon, Councilwoman Bridget Fleming grudgingly withdrew a resolution to determine lead agency on the LWRP for environmental review, saying it was clear she was not going to get the necessary support from the board to move forward—and she was not happy about it.

The board has held public hearings on the LWRP for the past several months while board members, local attorneys, and members of the public questioned whether the roughly 350-page document would cede local control to the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Instead, the town will review an amended version of the plan that eliminates references to the state, and it will be adopted as an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.

The move earned praise from Councilmen Brad Bender and Stan Glinka, as well as Councilwoman Christine P. Scalera, all of whom have requested more time to review the water protection plan. While all three have said all along they support many aspects of the plan—which focuses on 13 points to improve water quality in the town—they feared giving up local control.

However, on Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Fleming and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst maintained that the town will give up more local control by dropping the LWRP, saying the DEC will have the same controls it does now if the program is only added to the Comprehensive Plan, and saying there were regulations involved with the LWRP that dictate when the state could step in.

“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we have been working on this for many years, with stakeholder input, and we have a crisis in terms of a triple threat of erosion and pollution and overdevelopment of our coastal resources, which is the engine that drives our economy,” Ms. Fleming said. “So all that planning is still critically important to get this on the table sooner rather than later.

“The issue of being a new plan or document, this is one that is extremely well-vetted and very intelligently crafted, based on current science, conditions and things that have worked and not worked in other communities. So I am looking forward to moving forward with it and taking the LWRP part out only.”

According to Town Planning Administrator Kyle Collins, the plan will be tweaked over the next few weeks to remove the necessary LWRP language. Section three of the proposal, which pertains to the state and federal portions of the LWRP, will be removed, and other similar language will be changed through the document. The work, he said, will be continue to be done by the Urban Harbors Institute of Massachusetts, saying that the company was hired using grant money designated to explore an LWRP, but there is no requirement that one actually be adopted.

The altered plan is slated to be presented to the Town Board in the next few weeks, and will be reopened for a public hearing as an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.

Even with the proposal for an LWRP off the table for now, the board is still split on whether the town will be gaining or losing local control. That led to heated back-and-forth on Tuesday throughout the hour-long discussion.

According to Ms. Scalera, approving the document as an LWRP would give the state and federal governments the right to override the town whenever they see fit, because, as she said, the state will never approve a plan that does not coincide with its own coastal goals.

However, Ms. Fleming accused Ms. Scalera of spreading false information, saying that the LWRP would give the town the authority to halt permits currently being issued by the DEC that the town does not agree with.

“There is discourse among the planners, the attorneys, and among the engineers and many people who have weighed in on this and do not agree,” Ms. Scalera said. “But it is off the table now.”

It is unclear what the future of the document will be. As it stands, Ms. Scalera, Mr. Bender and Mr. Glinka have all come out against the LWRP, with Ms. Throne-Holst and Ms. Fleming in favor. However, the upcoming election could shake up the votes, with both proponents for the plan set to leave the board at the end of this year—possibly before a final vote on the proposal, in whatever form, is held. At the same time, Ms. Scalera is up for reelection, and two of her Democratic opponents have spoken in favor of an LWRP, citing its water quality benefits.

“There is not a rush for this,” Mr. Bender said on Tuesday. “There will maybe be a new Town Board sitting here and new players, and they might have a different idea. But, myself, personally, I like the idea of adding this to our Comprehensive Plan. The policies are sound—you can’t disagree with that—and maybe a new board will see differently and want to pick it back up and take it through the Department of State. But that will be that board. For this board, it doesn’t seem to be able to come to a consensus and take it forward, so we are taking it where we think it will work.”

Mr. Glinka agreed with Mr. Bender. “I think it would behoove the Town Board to take a little longer to look at this,” he said. “There are a lot of tentacles in this that can be detrimental and have a great economic impact in a negative way if we have to try and reverse something after it is adopted.”

While the board is planning to move forward with the amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, Ms. Throne-Holst still urged the board to reconsider the LWRP in the future.

“I am going on the record as saying I think that this is a mistake, and I think we are doing the town a misfavor in not moving in that direction,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “This is my personal opinion.”