August 16, 2006
Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art . . . The Purchase?
Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation appeared before the Suffolk County Legislature last week, urging lawmakers to act swiftly to preserve the Romeo property in Southampton.
Located in the Sugarloaf Hill section of the town, overlooking Shinnecock Bay, the acreage is commonly acknowledged to harbor ancient Indian burial sites.
John Strong, a member of a countywide archeology association, testified regarding the land's historic significance. He said that nearby properties were excavated and bulldozed during the 1950s, describing that development as "a major loss for archeology," one he doesn't want to see repeated with the development of Romeo holdings.
"This piece of land is a treasure. It has immeasurable value and rare beauty," tribal member Rueben Bess Valdez declared, adding, "We know as native people that our ancestors are buried in this hill." Valdez, along with several other members of the nation entreated lawmakers to do their best to preserve the land.
Following testimony, Lisa Votino-Tarrant told The Independent that she's been working with Southampton Town officials in a preservation effort. Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney affirmed the report. He said he's been trying for a purchase since he first took office four years ago.
"We tried in earnest," Heaney said, "but we've never been able to come to a number that's even close enough for serious negotiation. We've always been separated by millions of dollars."
Interest in the preservation of the 13-acre site was renewed earlier this summer as an application for a residential subdivision reached its final stages. Last month the town board was slated to discuss accepting a conservation easement attached to the four-lot development. When Heaney learned that approval of the easement would clear the way for the issuance of building permits, he wanted to hear what precautions are being taken to protect purported burial sites. "No one could answer that," Heaney explained this week. The hearing was adjourned.
During its next phase, the supervisor said he expects to receive a detailed presentation explaining how archeological attributes may be identified and protected.
In the meantime, Heaney said he plans to meet with the property owner to see if the town can acquire at least one of the four lots. He favors the idea of the county buying another of the four lots, rather than a shared purchase plan. If a successful acquisition can be achieved, the supervisor said he'd like to craft a management agreement with the Shinnecock tribe, giving it stewardship of the land.