An ordinance they wouldn't enforce and a facility they may not fund. Members of the East Hampton Town Board broached two atypical notions last Thursday night, as discussion of two ongoing issues – traffic problems on the Miller Lanes and the cost of the town scavenger waste facility – continued.
A public hearing on measures designed to provide relief to the Miller Lane neighborhood drew a handful of speakers, most of whom supported the concept of closing off the area, which is used by motorists looking to avoid the village and the busy North Main/ Cedar Streets intersection, to through traffic and trucks.
The proposal includes installing extra stop signs in the neighborhood, closing it off to heavy truck traffic as well as through traffic from North Main Street, Cedar Street and Oakview Highway. The hearing notice also included closing off Cooper Lane, Palma Terrace, Sherrill Road and Osborne Lane to through traffic as well. Questioned about the closure of the lanes that feed into Newtown Lane in the village, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said the goal was to have the rules "match up" with those enacted earlier by East Hampton Village. But the village doesn't limit through traffic on those four streets. Other board members said they weren't aware of the inclusion, and seemed inclined towards jettisoning that portion of the proposal.
Resident Julia Mead submitted a petition boasting 80 signatures in support of the closures, while neighbors John McCue and Bobbi Sayler complained about drivers who speed and ignore existing stop signs and traffic laws in the neighborhood. All three claimed traffic congestion and scofflaw motorists are a year round problem, a statement that contrasts with prior testimony from area residents who said the problem diminishes significantly immediately after Labor Day.
Two speakers expressed opposition to the plan. Beverly Bond worried the move would take a problem that's "bad" at the North Main intersection and make it worse, by funneling all traffic to North Main Street. Councilman Dominick Stanzione wondered whether town officials wouldn't be forced to come up with a plan for the area "if everyone is inconvenienced."
Chris Russo, who served as town highway superintendent from 1990 to 2008, said the board should sit down with truck operators and devise a route, then ban them on all other roads throughout the town.
He said that in the past when he'd been asked about banning through traffic, he said he had the ideal solution. Residents could petition for removal from the town highway system. Once the roads are rendered private and not maintained with taxpayer money, residents could, he said, put up gates and guards and moats and alligators if they want.
Russo warned that if the board approves the move, town officials will receive "a hundred" requests from other neighborhoods asking for the same special treatment. Suggesting the traffic congestion on the Miller Lanes is no different from problems faced by many other town residents during the summer, he said, "We have too many people and too many cars . . . I don't like not being able to turn out of my drive way for two months, but I deal with it."
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc was the only member to express reluctance about embracing the measure, noting that if people are ignoring stop signs and speeding, the violations should be addressed rather than the roads closed.
David Buda wondered whether the town could enforce a non- residential traffic ban. Overby and Supervisor Bill Wilkinson both said police would be unlikely to "really" enforce the ban. Instead, the goal is to have a "dilutive" effect, by preventing out-of-area drivers from using the roads. The regulation would be a town ordinance, not a state traffic law.
From no enforcement to no funding: Last year the town board adopted a budget that called for funding the scavenger waste plant for just three months. Officials planned to sell the site to a private firm. But when Overby and Van Scoyoc joined the board in January, the pair discovered a slew of questions about the deal, particularly how the environment would be protected, were unanswered.
The sale stalled and with no funding in place, the plant's budget slid into deficit mode.
Carol Campolo criticized the pair, and Stanzione, as "irresponsible" for delaying the sale, and for suggesting the town issue bonds to pay for a required clean up at the site.
Van Scoyoc emphasized the clean up is not routine maintenance, but a "one time thing" required by the state. He said that even if a private entity took the plant over, "We'd still have to pay to cover the clean up." The sole respondent to the town's request for proposals wasn't going to undertake the work.
When the councilman suggested it would have been more prudent to budget for operational costs, and log a surplus if the sale went through, Wilkinson lost his temper. He said he would never submit a "fake budget" and plans to submit another budget for next year that only funds operation of the plant for three months again. Board members will have to increase the budget if they want to continue to carry the expense.