Letter to the Editor
Westchester Guardian

March 11, 2009

When elected officials fail to implement environmental laws there must be a reason. Occasionally the reason is that these officials will not (or cannot) defy the vested interests of influential individuals. Often, politicians make human mistakes but are afraid to face the political and economic consequences of redressing those mistakes.

And sometimes the truth lies somewhere in between.

Take the case of Mr. Robert Schubert. In the summer of 2006 his wetlands garden dried up when the city of Rye allowed a neighbor to install a dry well where none had previously existed. Rye’s naturalist at that time, Chantal Detlefs (who was away when the permitting error was first made), has since categorically stated, “The only way the dry well does not require a Wetland Permit would be if one already existed in the exact same location at the exact same depth and size, etc.”

(cf: Letter from Ms. Detlefs dated 02/18/09 to Rye City Mayor Otis & Council Members)

Despite the clear fact that the city of Rye failed to follow through on appropriate wetlands permitting with regards to Mr. Schubert’s garden — a simple error which should have been speedily rectified — the Rye City Council has drawn out this process for more than three years. Why?

During this time Mr. Schubert has been diligently trying to get the problem solved; apparently a nuisance to the city council. In a bizarre “act of concern and compassion” for Schubert, Paul Shew, Rye City Manager, actually called the Westchester County Crisis Team to “evaluate” him. Schubert contends this was done in an attempt to silence him at council meetings. Only now, with a groundswell of public outrage in support of Mr. Schubert, is the city council making any headway towards resolving this situation. Yet still at the February 25, 2009, meeting Shew had the temerityto declare public interest and support for Schubert, “just a publicity stunt.”

The question is why?

Are legitimate environmental issues too unimportant for Rye government to address? They shouldn’t be. That’s what more and more people concerned about protecting the environment for future generations want their cities and towns to do.

So the question remains: why do environmental codes get short shrift? Similar questions hover with respect to Rye’s Hen Island. This 25-acre, privately owned island in Milton Harbor has been the subject of scrutiny by concerned locals, government officials and environmental groups such as Long Island Soundkeeper headed by Terry Backer. Few, if any, safety, sanitary or building codes are enforced on Hen Island.

The question is why?

Why, for instance, was Ron Gatto, the eminent lead investigator of the Westchester County Environmental Enforcement Unit, removed from the Hen Island case after he reported environmental, safety and health issues serious enough to close the island? Or should we ask “who” removed him?

Why did Gatto’s successor to the Hen Island case, Westchester County Deputy HealthCommissioner Len Meyerson, find no such health issues even though some open, untreated sewage pits exist less than 10 feet from the shoreline? According to Meyerson, two inspections determined no sewage was leaking into Long Island Sound. When queried by a local reporter he glossed over the issue thusly: “…Mother Earth is the best way of making sure that the pollutants are removed from human waste — from sanitary waste water.”

In other words, once sewage effluents are diluted by the Sound, there’s no problem. Is this an appropriate attitude for a public health official in one of the most affluent counties in the U.S.?

At the moment questions outnumber answers. To get answers, more concerned citizensneed to bring pressure to bear on public officials. Insist on candor and transparency. Refuse to be brushed aside with platitudes and double-talk. Keep asking them “Why?” environmental laws and health codes are being ignored.

Thank you for your interest but, most of all, thank you for caring about Hen Island, our harbors, our waters and the environment—so precious to us all.

Ray Tartaglione 


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