Column: Fresh & Co. flap is nothing new for Orient residents

A colleague of mine at this newspaper used to refer to the North Fork’s easternmost hamlet as The People’s Republic of Orient. The implication was that residents of Orient considered themselves and their hamlet separate and apart from the rest of Southold Town — a humorous suggestion that was, at the very least, partially reality-based.

It is true: We Orienters (the former Joan Giger Walker and I have lived here for the past 40 years) are a prickly breed — and that includes the most recent settlers who bought homes here — largely because the hamlet has been comparatively slow to embrace change.

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. And a selection of the ingredients in that pudding reads as follows, essentially in chronological order over the most recent four decades.

• The proposal to build two luxury homes on the shores of Hallocks Bay, just south of Narrow River Marina. Not only was that ill-conceived plan sent packing, but it eventually led to the perpetual protection of the entire perimeter of Hallocks by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

• The bid by a South Fork developer to build dozens of homes between Main Road and the bay. It, too, was blocked, and eventually led to the adoption of five-acre zoning south of the highway.

• The decades-long battle to counteract the exponential increase in Cross Sound Ferry traffic associated with the advent of the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in southeastern Connecticut. Although ferry traffic remains a concern to this day, Cross Sound’s efforts to build a large parking garage at its Orient Point terminal were stopped in their tracks.

• The attempt by a former superintendent of Orient Beach State Park to prevent boaters from accessing Long Beach. A successful court challenge caused the state parks department to do an about-face. (Disclosure: I was a party to that court case.)

• A revitalized Orient Association’s (under the able direction of its new president, Bob Hanlon) successful lobbying efforts to block proposals to divert interstate truck traffic from I-95 in Connecticut to Route 25 in Southold.

Although not technically in Orient, our neighbors at the other end of the causeway employed this same brand of hyper-vigilance in blocking bids to build McMansions at Cove Beach (aka the former Billy Joel property) and what is today the Ruth Oliva Preserve at Dam Pond in East Marion.

Just last week, in fact, there was another example of Orienters’ remarkable penchant for citizen activism when scores of hamlet residents turned out in force at Town Hall to express concern about Fresh & Co.’s plans for a 34.5-acre tract of protected farmland at the southwest corner of Route 25 and Narrow River Road in Orient. Coincidentally, also last week, the town issued an injunction blocking the 2017 edition of the Burning Kouch counter-culture festival in Orient because organizers failed to secure a public assembly permit.

(A personal aside: Joan and I attended the original Woodstock, so I don’t think I should be opining for or against Burning Kouch. But as it regards mixing 30 tons a year of pig manure with the fragile headwaters of Narrow River, or mixing “agri-tainment” with the heavy traffic on our two-lane Main Road, those are definite no-nos as far as I’m concerned.)

The headline in the Sept. 14 The Suffolk Times read: “Orient residents denounce proposal.” This caused a neighbor of ours to remark that we Orienters have a reputation for fiercely opposing any and all threats to our beloved hamlet.

Speaking only for myself as a resident of The People’s Republic of Orient, I plead guilty as charged, your honor.

The author is a former co-publisher of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].