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Jun 11, 2016 2:42 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Quogue Civic Association Meeting To Discuss 'The Hills' Turns To Screaming Match

Dr. James M. Cervino AMANDA BERNOCCO
Jun 14, 2016 3:20 PM

Accusations, denials, gag orders and shouting—all were part of Saturday’s East Quogue Civic Association meeting.

The CAC gathering was originally scheduled so that New York City-based marine scientist Dr. James M. Cervino could share his own study’s conclusions: that nitrogen and phosphorous from a luxury golf course resort built in the Bahamas a decade earlier by Discovery Land Company, the same firm looking to build a similar development in East Quogue, has damaged a nearby reef. Saturday’s meeting took a turn toward the tense when supporters of the local project showed up to defend the developer.

As part of his hour-long presentation, Dr. Cervino shared a photograph of the coral reef that he said was taken near Discovery Land’s Baker’s Bay Golf and Ocean Club in the Bahamas—a complex that features 125 homes, 240 estate lots, and an 18-hole golf course on 585 acres located on the island of Great Guana Cay—before ground was broken on the project. The reef in the photo was brightly colored and did not show any evident signs of damage.

Then Dr. Cervino showed a second picture of the same reef that he said was taken after the development and golf course were built; the reef in the photograph was covered in what appeared to be a layer of fuzz.

“You don’t need to be a scientist to determine what is happening here,” Dr. Cervino said while working the slide machine, adding that the fuzz in the second photo means that the reef is diseased.

“I knew it was going to happen,” he said, referring to damage to the coral reef, while explaining his interest in the Discovery Land project. “So I said, ‘Let me get to the crime scene before the crime.’”

Mark Hissey, vice president for Arizona-based Discovery Land, which is now seeking a special change of zone from the Southampton Town Board in order to build a similar 118-home luxury resort featuring an 18-hole golf course on nearly 600 acres in East Quogue, attended Saturday’s meeting, held inside the hamlet’s elementary school. He maintained that Dr. Cervino’s presentation was skewed, adding that his company’s development—particularly, the golf course—is not responsible for the damage to the nearby coral reef.

“Frankly, it was filled with inaccuracies and distortions,” Mr. Hissey said of Dr. Cervino’s presentation.

Dr. Cervino defended his research, noting that other scientists—including Dr. Thomas Goreau, president of Global Coral Reef Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to growing, protecting and managing coral reefs, and Brian Lapointe, principal investigator and research professor at Florida Atlantic University—support his allegations.

Dr. Goreau and Dr. Lapointe did not attend Saturday’s meeting. But Dr. Goreau wrote a letter that was read aloud during Saturday’s meeting, which attracted about 100 people, in which he pointed out that he was wrongly listed as a key contact on Discovery Land’s environmental impact statement for the Baker’s Bay golf course—a mistake later acknowledged by Mr. Hissey.

“My name was used without my permission or knowledge, which I totally reject,” Dr. Goreau wrote in his statement. “I have studied the Discovery Land Company on-site for 10 years, and I would like to comment on my reports.”

He went on to explain how the coral reef in Guana Cay was tested before Baker’s Bay was built, and that the testing continued in the years after construction began. Like Dr. Cervino, Dr. Goreau said the health of the coral reef severely declined after the golf course was built.

Ron Kass of East Quogue, who opposes Discovery Land’s plan for his hometown, also shared an email at Saturday’s meeting that he said was written by Dr. Kathleen Sealey, a professor from the University of Miami who served on Discovery Land’s Environmental Assessment and Environmental Management Team from 2004 until 2007, when her contract ended, according to Mr. Hissey.

In her email, which was read by Marissa Bridge of East Quogue, Dr. Sealey said that Discovery Land did not follow her plans or recommendations.

“As a Bahamian citizen (with dual U.S. citizenship), I am even more embarrassed that the government of the Bahamas did not enforce the Heads of Agreement and the original environmental management plan,” Dr. Sealey wrote. “In my opinion, [Discovery Land Company] did not act in good faith on their agreements, and actively tried to subvert the monitoring protocols and government site visits.

“I am deeply saddened that [Baker’s Bay] turned out to be so destructive to the island of Guana Cay,” she continued. “This is not the way the project started in 2004.”

After emailing Mr. Kass, Dr. Sealey received a letter from Robert K. Adams, partner at Graham Thompson, a law office in the Bahamas that is representing Discovery Land in its Baker’s Bay project. In the letter. Mr. Adams states that Dr. Sealey’s email to Mr. Kass made “serious defamatory allegations against Discovery in connection with” the Baker’s Bay development.

The letter demanded that Dr. Sealey, and the University of Miami, stop publishing or republishing letters about the developer without Discovery Land’s prior review and approval. Mr. Adams also demanded a public apology from Dr. Sealey and also wants her to pay the developer damages and legal fees.

East Quogue Civic Association President Al Algieri, who organized Saturday’s meeting, then stood up and announced that Dr. Sealey could not offer additional information due to the letter from Mr. Adams, a copy of which was provided to The Press. “The truth is out—but you can’t hear it,” Mr. Algieri said.

This week, Mr. Hissey said that Dr. Sealey had, in fact, complied with the developer’s demands and both retracted her comments and issued a public apology to Discovery Land.

During Saturday’s meeting, Mr. Kass and several other attendees asked Dr. Livingston Marshall, senior vice president of environmental community affairs at Baker’s Bay, who showed up with other project supporters, why his company is threatening a scientist who is critical of their project.

Dr. Marshall said that Dr. Sealey was never threatened, but he said he could understand “her being terrified, because it was a very, very serious matter, which I explained to her. That it was a serious matter.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Hissey said he was disappointed to hear an allegation that Dr. Sealey was threatened. “I think Ron Kass’s accusation toward Dr. Marshall—I think it was completely out of order,” he said. “Dr. Marshall never threatened Dr. Sealey. And for him to make comments like that in public is absolutely shameful.”

Saturday’s meeting briefly turned into a shouting match when supporters of Discovery Land’s East Quogue project, dubbed “The Hills at Southampton,” entered the elementary school, some wearing shirts featuring the words “The Hills.” At that point, several attendees, including Mr. Kass, started asking the Discovery Land representatives questions about the company’s resort in the Bahamas—namely, if the golf course at Baker’s Bay played a role in damaging the coral reef.

“My answer to what you say is, ‘No,’” Dr. Marshall said.

His response prompted several minutes of shouting as attendees fought to be heard over each other. The exchanges spurred Mr. Algieri to grab the microphone and announce that officials representing Discovery Land were not welcome at his meeting.

“It’s obvious that Discovery Land, that had a breakfast this morning, has sent over a number of people, not to ask questions but to make statements that may not be true,” Mr. Algieri said. “Everyone can speak, but if you came to make a statement because you work or have some association with Discovery Land, you are in the wrong place.”

At 9 a.m.—about an hour before the CAC meeting began—Discovery Land served breakfast and held an informational meeting about its East Quogue project at the New Moon Cafe on Main Street, about a half mile away from the elementary school. Discovery Land’s meeting was originally scheduled for 10 a.m.—the exact same time as the civic’s meeting—but several days before the event the developer ended up pushing up the start time of its meeting by an hour.

In addition to blaming the golf course for damaging the reef, Dr. Cervino said he believes that harmful red and brown algae now appearing in the water near the Baker’s Bay golf course can be traced back to the nitrogen coming from the golf course that is located “a football’s throw away” from the pollution he has observed.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Dr. Cervino said. “No scientist can debate this. Add nitrogen into the water and this is what you get.”

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Surely this could not have happened in "nowhere neutral East Quogue!"

Where's the video?

By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Jun 11, 16 3:35 PM
1 member liked this comment
Informative meeting. Q and A's typically devolve into shouting, and the plants by the developer fueled the fire. Great presentation by Mr. Cerviino. When it comes to believing scientists or developers, I side with the former.
By Craigcat (258), Speonk on Jun 11, 16 3:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
A little over the top, Amanda. There was some shouting, and it did happen at the point you say it did, though I don't believe it lasted "several minutes" as you report, and it certainly doesn't justify the headline that the affair became a "Screaming Match."

Instead, as you also report, Al Algieri restored order and the meeting proceeded with a number of genuine questions from the group and an intelligent if lively exchange. Not being a scientist, I can't judge the scientific input, ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jun 11, 16 3:56 PM
2 members liked this comment
"regulate" may not have been the correct word - but the meaning is the same. The Town can covenant that only a certain percent of the property can be dependent upon fertilizer and can regulate that no pesticides be used. They can also require testing and annual reports as a contingency
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Jun 12, 16 3:54 PM
I don't believe they can require testing and annual reports.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jun 12, 16 4:01 PM
They did as a part of the Bridge - in fact, Petrovic is one of the people who was responsible for the documents.

The Town Board approved a change-of-zone application for a 281.37 acre portion of
512.18 acre property to Quasi Public Service Use District (QPSUD) by Town Board
Resolution No. 797, which includes Local Law No. 25, on July 8, 1997. The Town
Board approval was for a single 18-hole golf course.
One of the ...more
By Nature (2966), Southampton on Jun 12, 16 9:00 PM
Livingston Marshall was named as a "key contact" in Discoverys original version of the DEIS. When Discovery was caught red handed lying about the "key contact" scientists the whole section disappeared from the revised DEIS.

Now they reschedule their meeting, that had the same 20 or so people show up who want a free meal or work for Discovery, so that they can send shills to disrupt a legitimate community organizations educational meeting.

These guys don't play by the rules. ...more
By CleanWater (122), East Quogue on Jun 11, 16 4:33 PM
1 member liked this comment
If I had written this story, I would have reported that the scientist who wrote Discovery Land's environmental impact statement for the Bakers Bay development, Kathleen Sullivan-Sealey, wanted to appear but couldn't. Discovery Land has slapped her and her employer U Miami with a gag order lawsuit. So you have an organization that is now suing its own advocate. This is not a group that is dealing in good faith. The fact that two town boards have proceeded this far in negotiations with Discovery ...more
By rburger (82), Remsenburg on Jun 11, 16 5:07 PM
Very well said.
Thank you.
By FiddlerCrab (96), Westhampton Beach on Jun 11, 16 5:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
The only way this puppy moves ahead is after a deal is made in a smoke filled back room...

Which, I believe, will not happen in this age of instant communication.

By FiddlerCrab (96), Westhampton Beach on Jun 11, 16 5:36 PM
Clearly you didn't watch what happened with the PDD at the canal.
By bird (829), Sag Harbor on Jun 11, 16 7:47 PM
Wait a minute, what Discovery did to "their" scientist,Prof. Kathleen Sealey, was spoken about at this meeting and the reporter just didn't bother to mention it???

To those of you not following this, Discovery used her name without permission. She responded by writing a letter calling out Discovery's failure to abide by environmental protocols. They responded by threatening her with a lawsuit.

Ms. Bernocco, time for a re-write.
By sag2harbor (117), sag harbor on Jun 11, 16 5:41 PM
Not accurate, Kathleen Sealey was a scientist paid by Discovery to prepare the EIS for Bakers Bay, She had a non-disclosure agreement with Discovery, which is not unusual. She violated the non-disclosure agreement which placed herself and the university she worked for in legal "hot water".
By weaver (18), southampton on Jun 12, 16 7:54 AM
Incorrect weaver. Discovery's attorneys letter threatening her makes no mention of a non-disclosure, so that wasn't the issue. It accuses her of making defamatory statements, and repeats them in their letter. You should read it, interesting reading.

And you should double check everything you hear from Discovery.

By CleanWater (122), East Quogue on Jun 12, 16 10:26 AM
2 members liked this comment
Hmm.........seems to me there are a few important details which were left out by Ms Bernocco. A very slanted piece by this reporter.

Dick Amper spoke and informed us that the as-of-right development which residents are being told is what we are going to get if the golf course is not approved is not the case. No mention of Mr Amper's dialogue which included what those in attendance witnessed. Rather than ask questions those on the DLC payroll tried to take over the Q & A period from those ...more
By crusader (391), East Quogue on Jun 11, 16 7:10 PM
So, you're saying you don't want to hear all sides of the proposal, just that part with which you agree? And you also take at face value the opinion of a man simply because he's identified as a scientist but produces little or no scientific evidence?

The sky is not falling. The question of the possible environmental impact must be dealt with objectively, not subjectively or emotionally.
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jun 11, 16 9:58 PM
1 member liked this comment
Exactly, if the people of East Quogue and Quogue really want to improve the water quality of the bay, then they should not waste their energy on a development so far removed from the Bay and which will have little impact and focus on the thousands of residential properties surrounding the bay, discharging nitrogen from thousands of individual cesspools and more importantly applying tons of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides on their property which wash into the bay with the first rain.
By weaver (18), southampton on Jun 12, 16 8:04 AM
... how 'bout the chemicals in the groundwater beneath the development? Incessant fertilization and pesticide application will pollute the aquifer beneath this nightmare of a development.

By playing the " too far away from the bay to be any concern " card, as the developer has, you admit that the toxicity exists . Using your logic, we are lucky it is only in our drinking water and not the bay.
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Jun 13, 16 7:20 AM
1 member liked this comment
If you would have attended the meeting you would have seen the scientific evidence that Dr. Cervino presented.

The scientific evidence is there if you care to look for it that DLC misled and lied to get their project through in the Bahamas.
By crusader (391), East Quogue on Jun 13, 16 10:12 AM
1 member liked this comment
Sounds line algeri doesn't want anything in his backyard, or HIS meeting, without his approval. Is he the boss of quogue?
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Jun 12, 16 6:31 AM
East Quogue.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Jun 12, 16 4:02 PM
what portion of taxes does the golf course pay? Check out what Shinnecock Hills and National pay as well as other courses.....
By clamdigger (85), Quogue on Jun 12, 16 10:38 AM
3 members liked this comment
From the Southampton Press 2011
According to town records, the Sebonack course is 249.7 acres, has a land value of $34 million and paid $214,725 in school taxes; National Golf Links is 251.2 acres, has a land value of $35 million and paid $221,496 in taxes; Southampton is 167.68 acres, has a land value of $11 million and a school tax bill of $69,838; and Shinnecock Hills is 282.85 acres with a land value of $39 million and pays $241,752 in school taxes.
And they say the Hills course will ...more
By CleanWater (122), East Quogue on Jun 15, 16 11:39 PM
2 members liked this comment
They are total properties. Those acreages include wetlands, woodland, restored areas, ponds, and any infrastructure. Golf courses are built on no more than 100 acres of land. Any more than that would make it completely unplayable and financially prohibitive to maintain.

The comparison here would be with 590+ acres, the majority of which is preserved in its entirety.
By Mark Hissey (171), Melville on Jun 22, 16 6:27 AM
... why weren't you at this meeting, Mark?
By William Rodney (561), southampton on Jun 23, 16 9:36 AM
But - you are promising to preserve space that is SHOEHORNED in between fairways!!

None of the other courses have preserved open space between their fairways.

Didn't Discovery promise to preserve open space at their Bakers Bay development and then "oops, sorry!!", when a bulldozer "accidentally" cleared the open space?
By sag2harbor (117), sag harbor on Jun 26, 16 12:34 PM
WHere is the group for the east end on this?
By AL (83), southampton on Jun 18, 16 7:19 AM
They are against it, as are many east end environmental organizations.
By Taz (725), East Quogue on Jun 18, 16 11:22 AM
1 member liked this comment
Group for the East End has sought full protection of this property for the better part of the last decade and worked with a coalition of civic and environmental groups to press for that outcome.

Full protection of the site was nearly achieved but last minute wrangling prevented that sale from happening. The money wast there, but the developer decided not to sell.

We have, and will continue to oppose The Hills PDD for three simple reasons:
1} The underling zoning is the most ...more
By Group for the East End (13), Bridgehampton on Jun 22, 16 5:07 PM
2 members liked this comment
Thank you for such a precise summary of just what is going on with the Hills proposal. I sincerely hope our Town Board rethinks their position on this. It seems thay are bent on pushing this through, when they could stop it right now.
By Taz (725), East Quogue on Jun 23, 16 10:52 AM