Suffolk Closeup: Twomey was never, ever giving up

Tom Twomey
Tom Twomey

Tom Twomey, the founder of the East End’s biggest law firm, had many accomplishments. But the most important can be seen on a drive along Sound Avenue on the North Fork, just before Riverhead Town becomes Southold Town. 

There, to the north, is what’s now state parkland. There’s also a 500-foot-high meteorological tower put up by the Long Island Lighting Company in anticipation of four nuclear power plants LILCO was getting ready to build. Required by the government, it was to record wind patterns helpful in the event of a nuclear plant accident spreading radioactivity.

But largely because of Tom, there are no nuclear plants on the site, only the tower, a kind of memorial to a failed scheme.

Tom worked tirelessly to stop those nuclear plants at Jamesport. He employed brilliant legal strategies and, literally in the last minutes, made a gutsy personal visit to a long-time Shelter Island resident, Governor Hugh Carey, in Albany, that finally put an end to the idea of nuclear plants.

I covered Tom as a journalist and he was a friend. I made a suggestion that helped in starting what became his law firm, now with 26 attorneys based in Riverhead. I had run into another young lawyer in the 1970s, Steve Latham, who like Tom was a strong opponent of nuclear power. I’d gone to do a story on a meeting of anti-nuclear activists that Steve had come to Suffolk to attend. A few days later, I mentioned to Tom, who was looking for a partner, about meeting Steve. Out of that came the start of what is now Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin and Quartararo.

In recent weeks, indeed up to just a few days before Tom’s tragic and untimely death — he was 68 and had years of projects ahead and the energy to pursue them — I was working with Tom in his role as president of the East Hampton Library. I’ve wanted to contribute many file cabinets full of documents and other material I’ve gathered as a journalist on Long Island for 52 years to the library. Tom was excited to have this to add to the library’s Long Island Collection.

Tom, of East Hampton, was a history enthusiast. He edited an “Exploring the Past’ series of books on Long Island, which include essays, travel logs, sermons and articles, and was co-chairman of the East Hampton 350th Anniversary Committee. He’s been a leader in the East Hampton Library becoming a Long Island center for its extraordinary historical archives.

The Shoreham nuclear plant is something many of us are familiar with. But not as well known is that it was to be one of many nuclear power plants on Long Island. I wrote a book on this titled, “Power Crazy.”

As Tom related in a 2011 guest column in the Reporter’s sister papers, The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review, “after 80 full days of hearings and the testimony of dozens of expert economic, scientific and engineering consultants hired by the [Long Island] Farm Bureau, we defeated LILCO’s plans to build a ‘Nuclear Power Park’ of 19 — yes, 19 nuclear plants around the East End from Wading River east to Orient on the North Fork, and then from Westhampton east to Montauk on the South Fork.”

Shoreham and the four plants at Jamesport would be among them. Tom wrote about how a LILCO Nuclear Power Park Report, four inches thick, “included site plans and surveys of the future locations of these reactors.” With this concentration of nuclear plants on Long Island, “LILCO intended to supply the entire East Coast with electricity” with Long Islanders exposed to the huge dangers.

Tom, interviewed by The Japan Times after the start of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, commented that in the Jamesport battle, “We concentrated on three arguments: Compared to existing alternatives, the reactors were not needed, they were unsafe, and they were too expensive.”

Asked for his suggestions “on what citizens of Japan should be doing,” he outlined a legal, political and citizen-action strategy that had succeeded on Long Island.

And then there was Tom’s gutsiness, illustrated by his meeting with Carey. One day he learned that the following morning a state board was going to O.K. the Jamesport nuclear plants, despite Carey having just pledged in his successful 1978 reelection campaign that “Jamesport is Dead.”

Tom rushed to the state capitol. Carey aides tried to prevent the governor from sitting down with him. But from the anteroom of the governor’s office, Tom called out to the governor: “How’s Father Haggerty?”

Reverend Thomas Haggerty had married Tom’s parents and baptized him and later became pastor of the Carey family’s church. “How do you know Father Haggerty?” the surprised governor asked. Tom explained and found himself in the governor’s office where he then told him how board members were getting set to reverse him on Jamesport.

Carey took to the phone and demanded his “policy be carried out.”

And so Tom succeeded in getting the finishing touch on stopping the Jamesport nuclear project leading to the end of Long Island becoming a “Nuclear Power Park.”

We spoke about the crucial Haggerty episode and that “Nuclear Power Park” nightmare in our last conversation.

Tom, husband of former East Hampton Town Supervisor Judith Hope, Long Island’s first female town supervisor, will be deeply missed.