The Journal News
September 4, 2007

RYE – A secluded island of quaint summer cottages off the city shoreline is at the center of a lawsuit that accuses its owners of discharging dirty water and sewage into Long Island Sound.

Raymond Tartaglione, one of 34 shareholders who own the 26 acres known as Hen Island, near the entrance to Rye’s Milton Harbor, is accusing some of the other owners of failing to properly monitor human waste disposal, potable drinking water, mosquito control and trash disposal.

In a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in White Plains, Tartaglione portrays the island as home to a mosquito-infested collection of ramshackle cottages with makeshift sewage and plumbing systems that leak into the Sound.

“I have personally observed untreated sewage from these residences discharge directly into the Long Island Sound, caused by the fact that there is neither a sewerage system nor sanitary septic system on the island,” Tartaglione says in court documents.

He and the other shareholders own Hen Island under a corporation named Kuder Island Colony Inc. They have licensing agreements that allow them to build cottages on designated parcels.

Tartaglione is demanding that the board update its policies to make Hen Island “a safe and nonpolluting community,” said Steven Gaines, the White Plains attorney who represents him.

Benjamin Minard, board president of Kuder Island Colony Inc., described Tartaglione, a Westchester County resident and White Plains business owner, as a disgruntled shareholder who was once ousted from the board. He said Tartaglione had expressed his concerns to other shareholders, but “the board has chosen not to take the direction he wants to go.

“Some of (the) things would be very, very difficult to comply with,” Minard said.

“At this point in time, the basis of the suit is that he would like to tell the board how to run the island,” said Minard, who lives in Syracuse in the winter and spends summers on Hen Island.

Gaines said Minard’s description of Tartaglione as disgruntled was inaccurate and irrelevant to the case. He said that most of the cottages have water and sewage systems that never received government approvals and that one cottage owner still uses an outhouse. Others have concrete cesspools that collect waste less than 10 feet from the shoreline, he said.

“When high tide comes or there is a storm surge, it’s flooded and the sewage goes into the Sound,” Gaines said. Tartaglione has a “totally enclosed system” that does not discharge any contaminants into the ground, his lawyer said.

Gaines also expressed concern about residents collecting water from storm drains for showering and washing dishes and about a ban on mosquito spraying implemented by the board. He said the absence of trash pickup had caused garbage to build up all over the island.

“Were there ever approvals is the real question,” Gaines said. “Were they ever approved by any governmental authority ever? And if they weren’t, it’s absurd for them to be grandfathered in.”

The Rye city code requires homes to comply with all rules that existed at the time they were built, unless they have undergone substantial renovations. Some of the cottages were built in the 1920s and haven’t been updated.

City Manager Paul Shew said the city building inspector had last visited Hen Island in July with county Health Department officials and members of the county environmental police. No health violations were observed, he said.

“It’s private property. We have to get permission to go on-site,” Shew said. “If there’s something that comes to our attention, we’ll look at it.”

Minard said shareholders were required to dispose of sewage “in the most sanitary method available.” He said residents know better than to drink the water from their cottages, and trash is delivered twice a year to Milton Point, where the city picks it up. The board recently implemented a mosquito control program, he said.

But Tartaglione is not the only one concerned about the living conditions of some Hen Island residents. Terry Backer, head of the environmental group Soundkeeper, based in Norwalk, Conn., said his organization had been gathering information about the island and had been planning its own lawsuit. Now it might join Tartaglione’s, he said.

“From all of the information we have gathered on it, they’re doing something that we don’t allow anyone else to do,” Backer said.

Soundkeeper has not taken bacterial samples around the island because it is difficult to pinpoint the source of bacteria, he said.

“Suffice it to say, we have enough information to know that Hen Island sewage has only one place to go, and that’s into Long Island Sound,” he said.


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