One Final plea for Pattersquash
A public hearing was held at a special town board meeting Monday evening that could determine the future of the Pattersquash Gunners Association.
Until Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Pelican Island has been the home of the duck hunters’ club since being founded in the 1920s. Damage from Sandy and subsequent storms pushed the shack off of its pilings and washed it away in the Bellport Bay in early 2013.
Frank Miller, president of the Pattersquash Gunners Association, noted that the 60-member group would not let the lack of a shack stop the sport from happening. “[Bellport Village] was incredibly helpful,” Miller said, adding that Ho Hum Beach was offered by the village to be the base of their operations since losing their shack.
The association decided to rebuild and is seeking to construct a 21’ by 21’ cabin with a 15’ by 21’ deck and 4’ by 80’ dock on property located on the southwest corner of Quanch Island on Bellport Bay, according to town legal documents.
“We need a place to congregate in the morning,” Miller said. The shack had been used as a refuge from bad weather, to get dry and warm up. Miller said the original structure had a main area, two rooms, a dock and crow’s nest, where early morning hunters would gauge wind and weather before deciding on a spot to hunt. It was also a central location where hunters, sometimes vying to hunt in the same location, would draw numbers to ensure fairness.
The very idea of fairness has left some residents and environmentalists concerned over the pending decision. According to Miller, the association has already received approval from the DEC and the National Seashore, and town planning and environmental approval is the “last hurdle.”
Their original plans were rejected by the planning department, a decision the group decided to appeal. At the public hearing, planner Brenda Prusinowski noted several concerns the department had on the new “shack” proposal that she said would impact the value of the natural habitat. “Some species of waterfowl and shorebirds would be displaced by human activity,” she said, adding that the construction would result in the loss of valuable foraging and breeding habitats. “Giving any group exclusive rights to the parcel removes those rights from the public,” she added.
Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, spoke at the hearing, echoing those concerns. “There is no reason to prohibit these folks from participating in their sport,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would be opposed to them having blinds set up, temporary structures,” adding that he didn’t think building a cabin would be an appropriate use of the land.
According to Amper, the building would cast shadows and interrupt the functioning of these sensitive areas. “We know more about wetlands than we did 40 years ago. They are very much endangered,” he said. Calling for the board to deny the appeal, Amper said that the hunters could be accommodated in ways that do not compromise wetlands and do not undermine the public by allowing exclusive use by a private entity.
“This reeks of corruption,” said East Setauket resident Doug Swesty. He shared environmental and taxpayer concerns, but also spoke as a waterfowler, who frequents the Great South Bay and Carmans River. “[The shack] is not something needed for duck hunting; we don’t need it there. This history of exclusivity is one we should eschew,” Swesty said, noting that times change. He spoke about live decoys, punt guns, lead shot, all traditions left behind in the waterfowling world. “We’ve abandoned those traditions, and yet, the sport persists,” he said.
Miller noted that the club’s charter calls for a maximum of 60 members, but any Brookhaven resident is welcome to join. “Membership rolls over, so when you become 63, you become a life member and that opens up space,” he said, adding that last fall, two slots opened up in the club, with only three or four people on the waiting list. “It’s a pretty vigorous activity, so as people get older, they drop it. It’s not an individual sport. You’ve got to go with a partner.”
Several other members of the hunting club spoke, all citing the history and legacy of Pattersquash in the community. “It’s part of our heritage,” said lifelong member Dick Richardson, “and should be kept alive for present and future generations. Give us our shack back.”
Fellow member Craig Kessler noted that as waterfowlers, they share environmental concerns and are in support of preservation of natural resources. “We’re not trying to build a subdivision, a strip mall, a casino or even a drag strip. We want a small wooden shack replaced as a piece of history,” he said. “When you cast your vote, don’t drive a nail into waterfowling history.”
Supervisor Ed Romaine said that no vote would take place Monday night, since the board would need time to digest all the testimony heard that evening. “To me, this is not just about a shack,” said Councilman Michael Loguercio, expressing support for the project. “If we don’t put this shack back, we are destroying a piece of history. This is something important to us, to the community and to Long Island.”
The board plans to meet with the planning commission and environmental department to weigh the comments heard at the public hearing. Romaine asked that written comments on the matter be accepted for the following 10 days, through April 21. “I appreciate all the information,” Romaine said, adding that a final decision on the matter would be made within the next two board meetings.
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