November 10, 2010
East End Closer To An Eruv?
A controversial eruv could be coming to western Southampton Town "soon," at least according to utility company representatives.
For months, Westhampton Beach residents have argued whether to embrace a proposal first championed by the local synagogue. An eruv is a symbolic boundary delineating an area where Torah-observant Jews could perform tasks, such push strollers, that they would otherwise not be allowed to do on the Sabbath.
The concept was first put on the table in Westhampton Beach in 2008 by Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Hampton Synagogue. He withdrew the application to the village after fierce backlash. Recently, word spread that a new and even more expansive eruv proposal, encompassing parts of Quogue and Southampton Town, had been pitched by a new organization, the East End Eruv Association. Many believe that Schneier is a member of the group, represented by New York attorney Marvin Tenzer of Tenzer and Lunin LLP.
Members of the group Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, helmed by Westhampton Beach resident Arnold Sheiffer, have met over the past years to galvanize, sign petitions and discuss how an eruv would destroy community character. They've displayed a letter from Verizon stating that the utility company would put no eruv markers, or lechis, on utility poles without the consent of area municipal governments.
But this week, both Verizon and Long Island Power Authority reps state that an eruv could be coming – sooner than later.
A letter written by Verizon assistant general counsel William Balcerski and sent to the Quogue mayor and village board states that "Verizon does not object to the attachment of lechis to Verizon poles," so long as work is done pursuant to a licensing agreement. "Verizon intends to issue licenses to permit the Association to attaches lechis to Verizon poles" unless the village chimes in with a "no," he wrote.
The letter said while it was originally thought permission of local municipalities was necessary to proceed, after receiving letters from the East End Eruv Association and an opinion from its counsel Weil, Gotshal and Manges, "permission from the village is not necessary," and lechis are not "encroachments." He added lechis cannot be denied when other kinds of attachments are found on poles throughout Quogue. To interfere, the opinion states, would be a violation of civil rights laws.
According to John Bonomo, director of media relations for Verizon, the letter was sent only to Quogue since the research done by the Associaton and its law firm addressed Quogue's specific issue of possible code violation.
"Southampton, to our knowledge, hasn't taken a position."
This week, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she is not yet able to comment on the "complicated" situation.
Bonomo said Quogue Village Mayor Peter Sartorius and the board were asked to peruse the documentation and issue a decision on whether or not they disagreed. "If you don't, we're going to permit this," said Bonomo.
Should they give the green light, Bonomo said of an eruv, "it could be soon."
Sartorius said he and the board will meet on November 19; he told Verizon he'd relate a decision by November 22.
Bonomo pointed out eruvs exist in many communities elsewhere on Long Island and in New York. "It's not something that's unusual." Asked whether he's seen this level of protest before, Bonomo responded, "No."
If allowed to proceed, said Bonomo, the East End Eruv Association will install the lechis. "We don't have to do anything." Next, Verizon reps inspect the work to ensure it doesn't interfere with any facilities for broadband or telephone services.
Markers, said Bonomo, resemble fishing line, and are "not an eyesore."
LIPA media rep Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the company's stance was the same as Verizon's. She explained that LIPA "already had an agreement with the East End Eruv Association" some time ago, and analysis has been undertaken. "We feel comfortable with allowing them to place" the lechis, she said, adding that there are some administrative issues with licensing agreements that still need to be resolved. The eruv could be erected "In a very short while," she predicted, adding she's had no complaints.
Sheiffer believes Throne-Holst's silence on the matter "is somewhat misguided. She has a petition signed by 300 to 400 people on the subject." He added that municipal leaders might be "confused" about what an eruv entails and that there is "a learning process."
He added, "it is not okay for Verizon and LIPA to proceed. There will be a legal opinion from Quogue that says it is not okay."
The recent opinion put forth by the East End Eruv Association's counsel "doesn't negate" the original letter, said Sheiffer. "It's a self-serving opinion from someone who's pro-eruv. That was not a full blown legal opinion."
Should the eruv erection proceed, Sheiffer said his organization will commence legal action.
Eruv markers would set legal precedent and open the door for religious and commercial markers and signage, many believe.
"This is not about religion. It's about money," said Scheiffer. Many believe an eruv would draw a wealthy Orthodox influx to the area.
Westhampton Beach resident Chuck Mansfield took ads in local publications chiding utility companies. An eruv, he said, "would fundamentally change the character of the areas involved."