Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he is frustrated after pleading with the Shinnecock Indian Nation to terminate erecting two 61-foot-tall electronic billboards being characterized by tribal members as monuments.
“We feel they are not in character with our community, and certainly violate the spirit of our laws that limit the height of structures and prevent light pollution,” Schneiderman said. “It’s unfortunate, but progress seems to be continuing unabated.”
Trees were cleared and a trench dug for electrical service as part of construction for the roadside advertisements on the Shinnecock tribe’s Westwood property in Hampton Bays, between Sunrise Highway exits 65 and 66. The Shinnecock Nation said the project will bring much-needed economic relief.
“Our community has suffered greatly over the last several decades due to a lack of resources,” a spokesperson for the Shinnecock Nation’s Council of Trustees said in a letter submitted to the town. “Now, we have the opportunity to generate revenue and have access to the same standard of living as our much wealthier neighbors.”
Schneiderman said although not part of reservation, that land has been owned by the Shinnecock Nation for some time. Tribal members believe it to be sovereign land immune or exempt from town regulations.
Schneiderman and Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni met with members of the Shinnecock Nation April 29, who said they were “not asking, but telling,” the town of its plans, according to the supervisor.
“They believe local governments, town and county, have no jurisdiction,” Schiavoni said. “We’re waiting for action from the state, if possible.”
At the meeting, Schneiderman presented tribal members with the town’s own letter in response.
“These urban-style illuminated signs, towering above the pine trees, are in stark contrast to all that represents the natural and scenic beauty of the town,” reads the letter signed by Schneiderman and the four other town board members. “We have learned many lessons about land stewardship from the Shinnecock, but these so-called ‘monuments’ seem in direct conflict with those teachings.”
The supervisor said he was told after the meeting that the light levels of the signs would “diminish significantly” after a certain hour. The signs are within 600 feet of the highway and near surrounding neighborhoods. Concerns were raised by Public Safety and Emergency Management Administrator Steven Troyd as they relate to the Dark Sky ordinance.
Town Attorney James Burke said he’s been in constant communication with Federal Highway Administration attorneys and the state Department of Transportation, adding he’s given them as much information as the town has to help decide the status of the property, which is being done in conjunction with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“That will determine whether the state has the ability to enforce the federal highway law on billboards,” he said. “The state has the responsibility, the jurisdiction, typically, to enforce laws on outdoor advertising on areas such as this, so it’s typically the state’s responsibility under the Federal Highway to enforce rules on this type of application. There’s a threat of losing federal funds if they don’t.”
Southampton held a special board meeting May 7 to authorize Burke to retain outside counsel to represent the town concerning the construction, the results of which were not available by press time.
Schneiderman said residents are upset, and might perhaps become more distraught as the structures continue to be raised. He said he’s still trying to reach an agreement with the Shinnecock Nation while awaiting state and federal determination.
“I’ve been trying to appeal to the conscience of Shinnecock people to work with us on economic development plans that will improve their living conditions that don’t detract from our scenic beauty and what I think draws so many people from all over the world to come to our area, to visit our area, to enjoy our area, to build their primary residence and their summer homes,” Schneiderman said. “We are doing all we can.”