Did Greenport Village Mayor David Nyce and Trustee Mary Bess Phillips, without informing other board members of their decision, turn down money offered by Southold Town in September 2009 to build a boardwalk through the Silver Lake area? That’s what Trustee Michael Osinski is charging and Ms. Phillips and Mr. Nyce are denying.
“Do you realize how unethical that is?” Mr. Osinski said in a telephone interview Wednesday morning.
“My time is valuable,” Mr. Osinski said. “I don’t have time for the gamesmanship that goes on.”
Ms. Phillips disputed Mr. Osinski’s account.
The town had money left over from a New York State DOT grant, and the Town Board hoped to use it for the bay to Sound trail initiative. Mr. Osinski maintains that Mayor Nyce and Trustee Phillips attended a September 2009 meeting with town officials at which they turned down the money. He said he’d never been notified of the meeting and so hadn’t attended but he had seen subsequent e-mails that he said showed they had declined the money offer.
Ms. Phillips denies it. “There was never any offer made” at the September 2009 meeting, she said. The discussion revolved around whether or not the town could get an extension of the time to put the grant to work, she said.
“Nobody turned down anything,” Ms. Phillips said.
Both she and mayor had told town officials only that they needed to have a public hearing before they could accept money to move ahead with the boardwalk
John Sepenoski, who is handling the bay to Sound trail initiative for Southold Town, said Wednesday morning that he was “stunned” to hear from the mayor and trustee last September that they couldn’t let the town buy lumber for the boardwalk until they had a public hearing on the project.
The village officials had heard rumblings of discontent from Silver Lake residents about a public boardwalk in their vicinity, but when the Village Board finally held hearings in May and June, no one spoke out to protest the plans.
Ms. Phillips said she thought that was because residents hadn’t received letters about the hearing, something that is not required by law but that she thinks should have been done because the boardwalk would represent a major change in the neighborhood.
Mr. Sepenoski said in an interview there had been no formal offer to the village of a specific amount of money for the boardwalk. But, he said, there was discussion about the need to spend some of the New York State DOT grant money before its January 2010 expiration date, lest the grant be pulled. The idea back in September was to buy and stockpile lumber for the boardwalk with some of the grant money. But that’s not something the town wanted to do unless it was assured the village was on board with the project, he said.
“We were stunned” to learn that the village couldn’t commit to the boardwalk, Mr. Sepenoski said. He also noted that no specific amount of money was offered and that, since then, the town had obtained an extension on use of the money ¬– approximately $71,000 left from a larger grant the town had received and used for other projects.
How much would be available now specifically for the boardwalk would have to be determined, Mr. Sepenoski said.
On Monday night, the Village Board officially voted for the first time to back the bay to Sound trails initiative, but not before another round of wrangling between Mr. Nyce and Mr. Osinski.
There were three proposals before the board dealing with different sections of the proposed trail, which would run several miles from Mitchell Park on Peconic Bay to Long Island Sound. All three passed, the first two with three votes in favor and opposing votes from the mayor and Ms. Phillips.The third was approved unanimously.
The first vote called for the village to agree to support the trail section proposed for the western portion of Moore’s Woods.
The natural habitat in that area shouldn’t be disturbed, Mr. Nyce said. “It’s very wet in that area and I’m not sure a trail is even possible there,” he said after the meeting.
“I don’t think the west end should be touched at all,” Ms. Phillips said in a telephone interview Tuesday morning.
The second measure called for the village to approve a boardwalk through the western portion of Silver Lake. Again, Mr. Nyce and Ms. Phillips voted no, but Mr. Osinski and trustees Chris Kempner and George Hubbard overrode them.
The third resolution, calling for support of the balance of the trail, won unanimous approval.
Mr. Osinski insisted Monday that he’d never received notice of the September 2009 meeting that took place between village and town officials about the initiative. Not for the first time, he accused the mayor of misrepresenting the facts. Because he has school-age children, Mr. Osinski said, he would not have been away from the North Fork in September and would have been able to attend the meeting had he known about it.
Mr. Osinski’s children attend school in Manhattan, where he and his wife have an apartment.
The Suffolk Times has obtained a printout of an e-mail that was sent Sept. 15 to all the trustees notifying them of the Sept. 17 meeting, and their replies, including Mr. Osinski’s, also dated Sept. 15.
“Mike, I know you are still in the city. I would love to have someone else there,” the mayor wrote in his e-mail to the trustees.
Mr. Osinski replied that he wanted the mayor to inquire at the meeting about whether grant money Southold Town had received was still available for the boardwalk portion of the project.
Mr. Osinski this week, asked to comment on the apparent conflict in his account and what the e-mails showed, said, “You’re being fed a line of crap.”
In voting for the Silver Lake boardwalk, Mr. Osinski described the area as a three-acre freshwater pond and said the area is an integral part of village history, although it’s virtually unknown to most people today.
The area where the boardwalk would be built is on the western side and it wouldn’t interfere with neighbors who live on the eastern side of Silver Lake, he said.
Ms. Phillips said she was concerned about how the trail would be maintained. From the time the trail initiative was first suggested by Mr. Osinski more than two years ago, board members have clearly stated their interest in a trail, as well as the village’s lack of money to build or maintain it.
Ms. Phillips said she wants both the town and county to be aware that maintenance can’t all fall to Greenport. The trail will cross land owned by the village, the Town of Southold and Suffolk County. They have agreed to the trail concept. It is not yet clear who will fund it.
PARKING ENFORCEMENT PENDING
With no comments from the public at a hearing Monday night, Village Board members decided to discuss in August whether to strictly enforce their parking regulations and alert Southold police to ticket violators.
In some areas of the village, including a block of parking spaces on First Street outside Colonial drugstore and several at the IGA supermarket, there are 10-minute parking limits. Those could be adjusted to allow 20-minute parking, the mayor said. In other downtown areas, there is a two-hour parking limit that also hasn’t been enforced.
Board members, concerned about parking difficulties in the downtown area, have been looking at solutions for almost a year. They were advised last September by consultant Michael Kodama of MK Planning Consultants in Burbank, Calif., to enforce existing rules before looking to expand parking opportunities. Police have been reluctant to enforce the parking limits without authority from the village to do so.
NO BASEMENT APARTMENT BAN
Despite efforts by Ms. Kempner to get her colleagues to endorse a ban on basement apartments in the village, the proposal was rejected in a 3-2 vote. The trustee argued that, with high water tables in the village, Greenport would be wise to ban basement apartments. She had previously said they were unsafe and posed a hazard to both residents and firefighters who might get called to a blaze in a basement apartment.
But except for Mr. Osinski, who voted with Ms. Kempner in favor of the ban, other board members argued that assuring that the apartments are safe is a code enforcement issue.
Acknowledging that the village needs more help with code enforcement, board members agreed to hire a part-time code enforcement officer to assist building inspector Eileen Wingate and village administrator David Abatelli. Before determining how many hours the part-timer will work, the board needs to set an hourly pay rate and determine what money is left in its budget to pay for a new hire.
Board rejects bids
Board members rejected bids for work on the old one-room schoolhouse that sits on the south side of Front Street facing First Street. The village wants to put it to use and it needs restoration. The schoolhouse would be used for multiple purposes, including a tourist information center, meeting space and interpretive center featuring village history and oral histories of residents. State guidelines required the board to put the project out for a single bid for all work. But now that the bids have come in at prices beyond what the village can afford, officials expect to scale down the project and seek permission to seek bids for only parts of the job, Ms. Phillips said. She is working with members of the village beautification committee to raise more funds for the remaining work.
BEACH TO BE CHAINED
Residents can expect access to Clark’s Beach to be blocked by a chain shortly as the Village Board, unable to maintain the site, authorized utilities director Jack Naylor to gate the portion of the beach the village still owns. It will be made accessible to special groups who apply for permits to use the beach. A diving group has long visited the beach and conducted cleanup efforts there.