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May 3, 2016 4:50 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Town Trustees Reject Offer To Work With Moriches Bay Project

Aram Terchunian, a coastal geologist and co-founder of the Moriches Bay Project, addresses the Southampton Town Trustees after finding out that his organization would not be included in a partnership with the Trustees to educate the public on the health of Moriches Bay. GREG WEHNER
May 4, 2016 9:55 AM

The Southampton Town Trustees have severed ties with the Moriches Bay Project—an organization led by a woman listed as a plaintiff in two lawsuits involving the Trustees—in a quest for cleaner bays, instead choosing to work with two local universities to do the same job.

The Trustees would not explain this week why they decided to stop working alongside the Moriches Bay Project, a nonprofit with a goal of improving the quality of water in Moriches Bay by farming oysters and planting eelgrass, though several insisted that their decision had nothing to do with the litigation. But Laura Fabrizio, the founder of the organization and a homeowner in the Village of West Hampton Dunes, said there is definitely a connection.

“I finally thought we had worked out our differences,” Ms. Fabrizio said on Tuesday, a day after the Trustees opted to bypass her organization and instead start working with Stony Brook University and Southold-based Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. “I think there are one or two [Trustees] who cannot separate my personal lawsuit and the Moriches Bay Project.”

Ms. Fabrizio has been named in at least three different lawsuits involving the Trustees.

The first, filed in 2006, pertained to a spit of land that formed rapidly in West Hampton Dunes; at issue was whether the dry land belonged to the Trustees or the waterfront property owners. State Supreme Court Justice Peter H. Mayer dismissed the suit in February, ruling that the Trustees had waited too long to claim ownership to the land. They had sued both the village and some three dozen of its homeowners, including both Ms. Fabrizio and Mayor Gary Vegliante, challenging their claim to the several hundred feet of sand along the bay side of the oceanfront village.

Ms. Fabrizio also was involved in another pair of lawsuits, which she filed along with members of the West Hampton Dunes community, challenging the authority of the centuries-old Board of Trustees to control the local waterfront, and accusing them of misappropriating public funds. The Trustees were successful on the second issue, and were given permission by the courts to keep books separate from the town’s accounts. But the first part of the lawsuit allowed the courts to overturn the Trustees’ jurisdiction on ocean beaches within village limits.

As part of a resolution that was passed on Monday, the Trustees agreed to allow Southampton Town Trustee President Ed Warner to enter into an agreement with Stony Brook University to exclusively conduct shellfish and water quality studies within Shinnecock Bay from now through December 31, 2016. The agreement also allows Stony Brook to raise and tend to shellfish within the body of water.

The exception is the ongoing Southold Project in Aquaculture Training, or SPAT program, which teaches community members how to be stewards of the bay through shellfish replenishment at Tiana Beach. The Trustees are working with the Southold-based Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County on SPAT, and the resolution allowed a new agreement for that work—and to allow Cornell to exclusively conduct water quality and shellfish studies and to raise and tend to shellfish in the Moriches Bay—until December 31, 2016.

“We felt, as a board, it would be better managed by two higher learning institutions that we have trusted for many years,” Town Trustee Eric Shultz said.

The agenda for Monday’s meeting listed a resolution to allow the Trustees to enter into a new agreement with Moriches Bay Project. That resolution was shot down after the Trustees unanimously approved the new resolution, which was introduced as a walk-on item by Mr. Shultz at the beginning of the meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, Robert Kandell of East Quogue raised a concern with the Trustees regarding a donation accepted by the Moriches Bay Project from Arizona-based Discovery Land Company, the firm that is in the process of redeveloping the Dune Deck in Westhampton Beach. The developer also is looking to build a luxury golf course resort in East Quogue, dubbed “The Hills at Southampton,” that would include 118 homes on 600 acres, a project requiring the Southampton Town Board to approve a planned development district, a zoning mechanism that allows more intense density in exchange for certain benefits to the community.

Mr. Kandell said his concern is that the Moriches Bay Project is taking money from a developer that is pitching a project that the Group for the East End and the Long Island Pine Barrens Society both say will lead to additional pollution of Weesuck Creek. Mr. Kandell went on to say that it was hypocritical of the Moriches Bay Project to accept the donation.

Aram Terchunian, a coastal geologist and co-founder of the Moriches Bay Project, addressed Mr. Kandell’s concerns at the meeting, saying that as a 501-3c nonprofit, his group takes donations from a number of sources, including Discovery Land. “To cast aspersions on us at the Moriches Bay Project is completely and utterly without merit, and I think our record stands for itself,” he said. “We’ve partnered with this board, and we’ve partnered with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, and we have been a unified force in the restoration of Moriches Bay.

“This attempt by Mr. Kandell to divide people against each other is reprehensible, in my opinion,” Mr. Terchunian added.

Mr. Warner said the Trustees are closely watching that project, among others, and plan to review the geological impact survey and talk with their consultants before issuing any recommendations.

Ms. Fabrizio said after the meeting that if the Trustees’ decision to split with the Moriches Bay Project was prompted by the $1,500 donation from Discovery Land, that was a “cowardly thing to do.”

“If they had told us, we would not have taken money from them, if it was,” Ms. Fabrizio said. “It was such a cop-out that they were hiding behind.”

After Mr. Shultz read the resolution, Mr. Warner said that the new program with Stony Brook and Cornell is good, because it covers two areas in the town with the poorest water quality. “This project would encompass the western part of the town, which has been neglected,” Mr. Warner said.

At that point, as the Trustees prepared to vote, Mr. Terchunian asked if the public could be heard before the vote. The Trustees ignored his request and unanimously approved the resolution.

It is best, Mr. Warner said, that the Trustees partner with a lead agency like Cornell. He also told Mr. Terchunian that the Moriches Bay Project can continue to do what it does, but it has to go through Cornell now, not the Trustees.

Mr. Shultz said he does not believe the Trustees were ever locked into a partnership with the Moriches Bay Project, but instead allowed the organization to conduct its work on a temporary basis.

“They’ve tied our hands,” Ms. Fabrizio said. “All we are trying to do is good, and we keep getting beat down. But we will continue to get back up.”

Ms. Fabrizio said that with this decision, the Trustees are forcing her organization to spend $120,000 in raised funds elsewhere, so they are looking at options, which include working with Cornell to continue the work.

As far as the connection with the lawsuit, Mr. Shultz and Town Trustee Scott Horowitz were on the same page, saying their decision to use only Cornell and Stony Brook had nothing to do with the lawsuits involving Ms. Fabrizio.

“The reality is, it made perfect sense to have Stony Brook Southampton and Cornell,” Mr. Horowitz said. “It’s what these guys do, and it’s been talked about for some time.”

Mr. Shultz did say, shortly after the meeting, “Lawsuits are a giant drain on the Trustees’ time. Now we can focus on the health of the bay.”

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Does the concept "Manchurian Candidate" apply to this group?
By sag2harbor (117), sag harbor on May 4, 16 6:42 PM
The next thing this "community group" will suggest is the have some handsome fox mind the chicken coop.
By sag2harbor (117), sag harbor on May 4, 16 6:44 PM
Mr. Kandell has keen insight. It's not the first time this developer has tried to "buy in" to a community.

Wall Street Journal January 14, 2016 Developer Mike Meldman Is Real Estate’s Party Boy

"It took him 18 years to get past opponents of the project, who were concerned the land was in a wildlife corridor and on the San Andreas fault. “I got a Ph.D. in planning,” he jokes. He also markets his projects as environmentally friendly since ultra-high-end buyers prefer ...more
By CleanWater (122), East Quogue on May 4, 16 9:23 PM
Follow the money....
....how much of the $$$ raised has been spent on the actual oysters ?
Ms. Fabrizio said that with this decision, the Trustees are forcing her organization to spend $120,000 in raised funds elsewhere, so they are looking at options, which include working with Cornell to continue the work.

Based on this quote, The Moriches Bay Project has taken in far more $$$ then they paid for the bivalves. How many $$$ has Cornell received Laura ?



By harry1 (7), westhampton Beach on May 5, 16 11:25 AM
Good choice, Trustees! In one move, the Trustees have divested themselves of Fabrizio, Discovery and Terchunian. That's a great hat trick. The Moriches Bay Project always had a bit of a smell, even at high tide.
By Turkey Bridge (1966), Quiogue on May 5, 16 5:25 PM
Good choice, Trustees! In one move, the Trustees have divested themselves of Fabrizio, Discovery and Terchunian. That's a great hat trick. The Moriches Bay Project always had a bit of a smell, even at high tide.
By Turkey Bridge (1966), Quiogue on May 5, 16 5:25 PM
I'm hoping that this article is incomplete as Cornell Co-Operative depends upon other organizations to fund their efforts. Stony Brook/Southampton is obviously led by Chris Gobler, who has been very successful in obtaining grant money to support their efforts in Shinnecock/Tiana. They have had, however, no interest in expanding their scope to include Quantuck, Moniebogue and Moriches Bays in the western end of the Town. For the past two years, Moriches Bay Project was coordinating by supplying Cornell ...more
By roverton (61), Westhampton on May 5, 16 5:50 PM
Fabrizio, Aram et al are like gum on a shoe. As long as $$$ are available, they will be sticking around. Aram the environmentalist...ha, ha, ha ....has he ever seen a sand bag or a dredging project that he did not love.
And Laura Sue....hahahahaha.


By harry1 (7), westhampton Beach on May 6, 16 6:16 PM