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Jan 15, 2019 11:44 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Dust From Amagansett Farm Concerns Residents, Business Owners

The airborne top-soil dust at the farm in Amagansett.  KYRIL BROMLEY
Jan 15, 2019 4:36 PM

For the past two weeks, dusty topsoil emanating from farms neighboring Main Street in Amagansett, which were never covered for the winter, has blown around and crept into every crevice of the hamlet—and residents and business owners claim to be disposing of the flour-like dust by the shovel load.

Typically, farmers plant a covering crop for the winter to keep the soil in place, but due to a rainy fall, the farmers ran behind schedule. The farm raising the most concern is owned by the Bistrian family and leased to farmer Peter Dankowski.

Mr. Dankowski uses the 33-acre property to grow corn and potatoes. Barry Bistrian, one of the owners of the farm, said that because of such a wet fall, the potato crops were dug up late this year, in late October. Ryegrass, which is used as a cover crop, wasn't planted until late November. Because the ryegrass was planted late in the season, it was too cold for the grass to grow.

"He didn’t get a good come up from the cover crop, it's not holding the soil in place. We feel horrible," Mr. Bistrian said on Tuesday. "If anyone has ideas, we'll make an attempt."

The Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee met on Monday evening at the Amagansett Firehouse to discuss the matter, as a dozen Main Street business owners and residents raised health concerns, as well as frustration over cleaning costs and other issues related to the pesky soil that is leaving a thick residue all over vehicles, sidewalks and windows, as well as blowing inside buildings.

East Hampton Town Councilman Jeff Bragman joined the packed room of concerned citizens and read aloud a statement by East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc released prior to the meeting on Monday.

Currently, the Town of East Hampton is investigating multiple locations where fields are suffering wind erosion of unsecured or improperly secured topsoil, the letter stated.

“The wind-driven dust clouds emanating from these agricultural lands are a concern to private property owners, businesses and the Town as the dust poses health concerns, visibility issues and damage to public and private property alike,” the letter read.

Mr. Bragman said that the conditions were unacceptable to the town, and the town was investigating every avenue to have the property owner and farmers remedy the situation without further damage to surrounding properties and loss of prime topsoil from the agricultural lands.

The town plans to work to develop a legal framework to prevent similar issues in the future and to ensure that farmers are implementing the best soil-management practices.

Mr. Bragman said that he drafted an amendment to the zoning code that would require the planting of cover crops by a certain date, and presented it to the agriculture subcommittee, but got push back from the committee members. Mr. Bragman has been in contact with the Suffolk County Agriculture Department and plans to get more information about steps that can be taken to prevent the topsoil from being blown.

Town Councilman David Lys, a liaison to the ACAC, said that the problem isn’t just in Amagansett, but also in other areas of East Hampton Town, Sagaponack, Riverhead and Southampton.

While many called for some sort of solution, others suggested that it might be too late in the season to take any actions for this year.

“They’re probably not going to be able to plant something over this winter.” said Kristi Law, an Amagansett resident and East Hampton-based real estate agent. “It’s January.”

She suggested that the town could possibly erect a “high baseball fence with netting” to halt the dust. “This has happened three times in the last two weeks and caused significant property damage,” she stressed. “We need something to be done now so the rest of the winter isn’t a disaster.”

However, Mr. Bragman said that he spoke with an employee from the Suffolk County Department of Agriculture, and she was not enthusiastic about installing fencing with burlap and said that would not be effective.

Jon Rosen, who owns Tiina the Store on Main Street in Amagansett with his wife, Tiina Laakkonen, said he was grateful for the Town Board’s efforts to find a long-term solution to the problem.“The last cleanup we did was two days ago,” he said. “We were removing the stuff from our property by the shovel load … I would say at this point we’ve removed hundreds of pounds of material.”

It was the third time he’s had a crew of a half-dozen workers clean his property, he said.

“What about the fact that we have 20 mph winds forecast for later this week?” he asked.

He brought up the ideas of covering the field with straw to stop the topsoil from blowing away, or adding several rows of stockade bales to create windbreaks. “This isn’t 100-percent about ‘What can the town do on private property?’ Part of the conversation is, ‘What can the town do on town property?’”

Mr. Rosen urged the Town Board to call an emergency work session, and get the highway department involved as soon as possible, and treat this as they’ve treated the water crisis in Wainscott, or the erosion crisis in Montauk.

“I don’t want hundreds of pounds of arsenic dropped all over the village come this Thursday,” he said. “If the weather changes, and it’s not this Thursday, it’s going to be next week, and the week after that.”

According to the ACAC board members, a farm on Long Lane in East Hampton was the root of a similar problem in 2015. Neighbors had the soil tested, and it turned out to be rich in arsenic.

Michelle Walrath, an owner of Organic Krush on Main Street, expressed concern for the health and well-being of her employees, as well as the men and women hired to clean the mess.

“Hugely concerned about the impact that it’s having on our business,” she said. “We’re confused what to do when you call the town and they say it’s a New York State Agriculture problem … It’s been going on for years and no one is tackling it.”

Her employees have called in sick because of the dust, silt, soil, and chemicals, she said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to open for business the next time this happens,” she said. “I don’t think anyone is coming to work that day.”

Kevin Boles, one of the owners of Indian Wells Tavern on Main Street said the dust was thick.

“This happened two or three years ago and it cost us about $3,500,” he said.

The tavern’s mechanical equipment sits on the roof, and the dust that was blown in ruined the equipment. He said the dirt is everywhere, including the basement, the alleyways, and covering the doors of vehicles in the parking lot.

“I excused it back then, but now were going to have to go through it again,” he said.

Craig Wright, the owner of Innersleeve Records on Main Street, said the dust’s consistency is very fine, almost like a flour or a talcum powder. “I’m sure most air filtration systems aren’t stopping it,” he said.

Therese and Robert Benedict, homeowners on Hedges Lane, stressed the toll the dust has put on their home and property, “This has happened three times this past week … But it’s happened many years prior. We’ve been here for 10 years,” Ms. Benedict said. “I have not stopped [cleaning] for seven days, I have inches, it’s insidious … It’s everywhere.”

The topsoil issue was on the agenda at Tuesday’s work session, Mr. Lys and Mr. Bragman said. “This will be on the front burner for the Town Board,” Mr. Bragman said.

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Farms/Farmers were there long before all those complaining!
By Bond007 (21), Hampton Bays on Jan 15, 19 4:12 PM
Is this a yearly problem? Or just this season, due to the heavy rains and the bitter abnormal November temps that make growing cover crop impossible. And if Mother Nature does not allow for the cover crop to grow next year, will the farmer yet again be punished for what is beyond his control?
By toes in the water (736), southampton on Jan 15, 19 4:22 PM
1 member liked this comment
Amazing how folks from away move next to a farm and then complain about farming
By bigfresh (4050), north sea on Jan 16, 19 10:27 AM
3 members liked this comment
Cover crops will stop the problem. $$$
By knitter (1604), Southampton on Jan 16, 19 12:26 PM
It happens sometimes. It’s not a constant problem.
By Fred s (1997), Southampton on Jan 16, 19 12:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yes, it happens sometimes. not a constant problem . Yes , cover crop will help but can’t grow that in rain soaked fields followed by cold temps. Hence why there’s so much dust this winter. The deer an geese also add to destruction of cover crop btw.
By toes in the water (736), southampton on Jan 17, 19 7:06 AM
This is the country, folks. Sometimes Nature happens here.
By SusieD (112), Southampton on Jan 17, 19 1:41 PM
It was a cold fall. The last warm day was Oct 9 and it got cold, rainy & windy after that. I got bronchitis from putting up and taking down Halloween lights/decor outdoors. Didn’t put up any Christmas lights this year. Normally put them up right after I take down Halloween lights and wait til day after thanksgiving to turn them on. Not this year. Crappy weather all around.
By btdt (432), water mill on Jan 17, 19 4:36 PM
I saw the same thing at the farm on Steven Hands Path/Rt114 a few weeks ago. Major dust cloud stirred up. I wish I had stopped to take a photo. It was unsettling to see and yes, thoughts of the "dust bowl" certainly came to mind. If cover crop won't take, then something else has to be done to contain it as it is a major health problem and economic issue.
By Hamlet01 (3), Sag Harbor on Jan 18, 19 9:23 AM
I do believe that all of these dusty fields in the area are all farmed by Dankowski.
There are other farmers but no other fields with zero cover crop.
It seems they got their cover crop seed down on schedule.
By saggguy (18), SAGAPONACK on Jan 23, 19 8:12 AM