In a recent letter to the editor of the Suffolk Times, Paulette Satur dismissed as false complaints about noise and dust coming from her Cutchogue farm. She ended the letter with, “I will take every action to protect our legitimate farming operation.”
Within days, Satur Farms filed a $14 million lawsuit against the two neighbors who have been most vocal in their criticism of the Alvah’s Lane property, which the neighbors say is less a farm than a trucking depot.
Farm owners Paulette Satur and her husband, Eberhard Mueller, are also seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent James and Patricia McNamara, who live near the farm, and John and Joan Lademann, who own the property next to the McNamaras, from putting up signs claiming the farm’s activities kill or harm people. The suit also seeks to prevent the neighbors from having any contact with farm employees, customers or vendors.
The case is to be heard before Judge Arlen Spinner in state Supreme Court in Riverhead on Aug. 23.
Mr. McNamara said the suit will not prevent critics from continuing to speak out.
“$14 million just because we’re complaining about their situation?” Mr. McNamara said. “We’re just asking them for some relief. We’ve been going on with this for 10 years. If they’re going to sue us, we’re going to give them plenty of bad publicity.”
The court case includes the allegation that the critics are harassing farm employees. Mr. McNamara said neighbors have asked Satur drivers to use the farm’s property rather than the street in moving forklifts from one side of the farm to another and to park and move large trucks.
The critics have placed a large sign across from the farm reading, “Stop Satur Farms from killing us with diesel fumes, dust, noise pollution.” The sign came down after the suit was filed “but it might come up again,” said Mr. McNamara.
Satur Farms attorney Eric Bressler said it appears the neighbors are no longer approaching farm workers.
“Apparently that has ceased for the time being, and rightly so,” he said
In court papers Ms. Satur says she and her husband are the target of “extremely abusive, malicious and unjustified attacks … designed to injure us and drive Satur out of business.”
She also says that the neighbors have called her German-born husband a “[expletive deleted] Nazi scumbag.”
The alleged harassment of Satur employees includes an episode in which Mr. Lademann is said to have told one worker his name will be given to federal immigration officials.
The lawsuit also accuses critics of making “a series of unfounded complaints to government agencies.” Among them are that large refrigerator trucks are left near neighboring homes with their engines idling all night and that the property is little more than a shipping depot.
During a recent Southold Town Board meeting, town planning director Heather Lanza said the neighbors’ concerns, addressed by the Planning Board in their approval of Satur Farm’s request to build a new barn, remain because the barn has not been built.
Those stipulations do not take effect until construction begins.
The Planning Board found that enough farming was taking place to consider shipping vegetables a permitted ancillary use. The site plan accompanying the barn approval requires that trucks be kept inside the barn and plugged into electrical outlets to keep their refrigeration running, eliminating the need to keep the engines going. The farm was also instructed to hose down dirt roads to keep dust under control.
During that meeting, Councilman Chris Talbot said he sympathizes with the neighbors.
“I don’t blame any of the people who live down there,” he said. “I wouldn’t want that next to me.”
Mr. Bressler said the suit is not an attempt to prevent criticism.
“You certainly have the right to petition government for redress,” he said. “You don’t have the right to make assertions that aren’t true.”
Mr. McNamara said he worked for a brokerage house near the World Trade Center and was there when the buildings collapsed following the 9/11 attacks.
“Who knows what I have in my lungs,” he said. “It isn’t the best for me breathing in diesel fumes and dust.”
He added that he and the other neighbors are not attempting to drive the farm out of business.
“Their farming is fine by us,” he said. “Just give us a break. All we’re trying to do is make our lives a little better here.”