By Kitty Merrill
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Last Thursday night the East Hampton Town Board approved, in a split vote, what Councilman Dominick Stanzione deemed a "super size" mass gathering, expected to bring close to 4000 revelers to Star Island on July 5.
Supervisor Bill Wilkinson voted in favor of the so-called "Shark Attack Sounds" party, which will be held under 20 tents on the grounds of the Montauk Yacht Club. He used the recent Willie Nelson concert as testament to the town's ability to handle a crowd. Officials estimated about 500 people were in attendance at the Surf Lodge to hear Willie, with about 200 more viewing from kayaks on Fort Pond. That's 700 people compared to the 3900 expected at Shark Attack.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley also voted in the assent. She had no problem with 3900 people on Star Island, since the application had been routed to and reviewed by town department heads including the police and fire marshal. In the face of opposition from colleagues she likened the gathering to the annual Three Mile Harbor fireworks. That's a public event and a fundraiser. This is a commercial event, with tickets going for $46 in advance, with food and drink extra.
The Montauk Yacht Club, represented by attorney Tom Horn sought approval for a party with music going from 6 PM to 2 AM. Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc looked askance as the late hour of the music, but Wilkinson dismissed it, noting bars across the water like Liar's Saloon, the Hula Hut, and Swallow East all have music at night. (Hula Hut generally closes shortly after sunset and Swallow's music wraps up by 9 PM. Karaoke at Liar's goes until 2 AM on Fridays.)
Anyone who rented a room at nearby motels and was hoping to sleep that night "is going to have a problem," Van Scoyoc predicted. The application is for the largest gathering he's ever seen, the councilman continued. Wilkinson rebutted, noting the annual St. Patrick's Day parade brings more people to Montauk. "Not at two o'clock in the morning," Van Scoyoc replied.
Quigley suggested a revision that shuts the music down at 11 PM instead. The changed time was part of the final vote.
The application notes attendees will be shuttled to the site from Rita's Stables, where they will supposedly park their cars. Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who both voted no, were skeptical about whether that would really occur. How would people with other business on Star Island get through, would the road be closed? Did colleagues really think people wouldn't try to get to the gathering in their own cars? How was it all going to work, they wanted to know. Wilkinson and Quigley assured them the police would handle it.
The website touting "Summer's Sexiest Party" makes no mention of a shuttle; it lists the party's address as 32 Star Island Road, the same as the Yacht Club. The application notes on-site parking for 220 cars for staff and 300 VIP guests, and anticipates 800 cars carrying 1750 occupants will park at Rita's Stables. Another 1500, according to the application, will walk to shuttle buses, with 200 attendees arriving by taxi or limo and another 50 coming by boat.
It's the busiest weekend of the year, when the most people are here, Overby pointed out as discussion continued. The party will give them all something to do, Quigley countered.
Before introducing the resolution, Wilkinson made a generic statement about mass gathering permits. Reacting to stories reporting the coming party, he said, "I do not propose all mass gathering permits." Speaking of himself in the third person, the supervisor continued, "Bill Wilkinson hasn't said anything about what's going on on Star Island, I simply have it on the agenda, not because I support it, but because it's the job of the supervisors to set in motion the vote on resolutions for mass gatherings."
The timing of the process was cause for complaint by Overby, Van Scoyoc and Stanzione. Overby reported that, while a yearlong mass gathering list is kept at town hall, the Shark Attack request was never on it. The proposal was sprung on the town board the prior Tuesday, and the pressure was on because the elected officials don't meet again until after the event. Although the application was submitted on June 4, in compliance with the requirement of a 30-day window before the event, board members claim they never learned of it till last week, and were forced to vote without the chance to consider the event thoroughly. Stanzione, who eventually voted to permit the super sized event, repeatedly said he was unhappy with the timing.
There were other concerns Overby and Van Scoyoc voiced. Although Wilkinson's resolution listed the party as a fundraiser for the Montauk Playhouse, Van Scoyoc reported that no details about a donation had been worked out with the Playhouse. "It's an afterthought," Overby speculated, noting no mention of raising money for the Playhouse is made in the original application. Her request for more information about the fundraising aspect was met with a shrug from the supervisor.
Last year, the annual event was held at Rick's Crabby Cowboy on East Lake Drive. The mass gathering permit called for 800 attendees; 2500 showed and police had to close the road down for safety's sake. In 2011, The Independent, Wilkinson and Police Chief Ed Ecker toured post-midnight Montauk during the July 4 weekend. The party at Crabby Cowboy was our first stop at 12:45 AM. One inebriated reveler approached the supervisor's official town car asking for a ride, while dozens lurched drunkenly up and down the road.
On Thursday night, Overby raised a final argument. There's a "real cost" to the taxpayers for the amount of extra police, and overtime the massive event might prompt. Had the applicants arranged to cover the expense, Stanzione asked.
"I have no idea," replied the supervisor.