March 29, 2012

A 26-acre island that is mostly unknown to many in Rye has apparently caught the attention of the state’s top environmental watchdog.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is set to visit the controversial island in the coming weeks.

A source confirmed that the plan is for regional representatives of the DEC to perform an inspection of the island, alongside city and county officials, to determine if state laws are being adequately complied with.

Republican Mayor Douglas French confirmed that the DEC was looking into the matter in order to provide further information. “When it comes to environmental issues, we look to the state DEC and the county on those matters and follow their guidance,” French said.

The dispute over Hen Island is one that has dragged on – in and out of the courts – for years.

Its environmental issues have also been the crusade of one of its most polarizing residents, Ray Tartaglione. Tartaglione has sought to expose what he believes to be environmental flaws on the island. Hen Island inhabitants counter, saying that the resident is bitter for being ousted as the governing board’s president years ago.

“These are real problems out there,” Tartaglione said on Tuesday. “It is just a question of who is going to write the violations.”

In 2007, a lawsuit brought by Tartaglione against the island’s governing body alleged unsanitary conditions related to a mosquito infestation and improper sanitation. Tartaglione is known for his criticism of city government and circus-like antics, including enlisting an eight-foot feces mascot, Mr. Floatie.

The lawsuit was thrown out of court due to two letters from the county that stated the island’s inhabitants were not violating any county health regulations.

Tartaglione then tried his hand at suing the city in 2009, albeit unsuccessfully. That time around, the court determined that enforcement of the island was at the discretion of the city, not the county.

However, that did not stop the resident – who has long argued that a coverup was in the works – from continuing to press the issue publicly. He points to an inspection conducted in 2007 by Ron Gatto, a county environmental enforcement officer that revealed numerous violations on the island. However, the county did an about-face, changed its stance and eventually removed Gatto from the case.

Coincidentally, as the state enters the equation, it is the same Gatto who now serves as a police director for DEC and is likely responsible for pushing the state to intervene.

Tartaglione is hopeful that the state will step in on what he calls a long neglected enforcement issue. However, if it doesn’t, one is sure to expect more of the same from the critic. “If DEC says there are no issues, it only tells me that the coverup would be on the state level as well,” he said.

Hen Island is a private seasonal inlet that sits off the coast of Milton Harbor, lying along the Long Island Sound. The island is only accessible by boat, and has no electricity or running water. The Kudor Island Colony Inc., a corporation made up of seven residents of the island, own the secluded private seasonal island that houses summer homes.

Ira Goldenberg, an attorney representing Kudor Island Colony Inc., would not speak to The Rye Sound Shore Review when reached by phone on Tuesday.

A phone call to City Attorney Kristen Wilson seeking comment was not returned as of press time.

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