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May 14, 2019 4:46 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Shinnecock Billboard Work Continues As State Still Reviewing Whether It Has The Right To Stop Them

The site of one of the billboards on the south side of County Road 39 heading east.
May 14, 2019 5:01 PM

Construction of the Shinnecock Indian Nation 61-foot-tall electronic billboards along Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays has been underway for over two weeks, and state officials still have not said anything publicly about whether they will attempt to put a halt to the project.

The last update from the State Department of Transportation and the state attorney general’s office was that officials were still reviewing the matter and whether the state has any jurisdiction over the proposed signs, which are located on tribe-owned land on both sides of the highway.

So the stalemate remains the same as when work began—the tribe claims sovereignty over the site, as it lies on its Westwoods property; town officials are unsure if they have any authority to regulate the project, which is located within town borders; and the state is reviewing whether it can enforce federal highway laws, as the site lies on a state easement that is part of the federal highway system.

According to the Nation’s leaders, the tribe is exempt from the federal highway rules, and the State DOT has known about the project for months but made no effort to discuss it with the Council of Trustees before the project began—and has been regularly communicating with tribal officials since work began.

It wasn’t until a contractor began removing trees from the site late last month that State DOT officials met with the Shinnecock Tribal Council in its office, trustees said.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. confirmed that account of events, saying that “the tribe has been jerked around by the state for months.”

On the federal level, a spokesperson for U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin’s office said that he is waiting on an opinion from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs about whether the site is tribal land. The bureau is responsible for overseeing 55 million acres of land held in trust by the U.S. government for Native Americans and Native American tribes.

Tribal lands are exempt from federal highway regulations, so the federal bureau’s determination over the Sunrise Highway land could impact the state’s application of federal highway law.

“Throughout this process, federal, state and local officials and their respective transportation authorities have been in communication, and continue to work together as we await jurisdictional decisions from federal authorities and legal decisions from state authorities,” Mr. Zeldin said in an email. “Everyone at every level of government is committed to preserving safety and quality of life while honoring the Shinnecock.”

Meanwhile, local municipalities are using their influence—if any at all—to persuade the Nation to immediately stop working.

A group of 31 elected officials sent a letter, under Southampton Town letterhead, last week to the Nation’s Council of Trustees, urging its members to halt construction and instead work together to explore different economic development projects—including ideas like a tax-free gas station or a cannabis processing facility, which the tribe has said it discussed with town officials a year ago.

“We work hard every day to protect our community character,” the letter read. Of the signs, it said, “Although we respect the Shinnecock Nation’s desire to improve living standards for its members, we believe these structures directly hurt our region by urbanizing the landscape.”

Those who signed the letter included mayors and board members from Sagaponack, Quogue, Westhampton Beach, Southampton Village, Sag Harbor, East Hampton and North Haven. Suffolk County legislators Bridget Fleming and Al Krupski also signed.

In the letter, they expressed concerns about driver safety and the impact of light pollution on the surrounding area, and questioned whether the billboards comply with federal highway law.

“They would be more fitting in New York City’s Times Square or in Las Vegas, Nevada,” the letter read.

The Hampton Bays Beautification Association planned a protest of the project on Wednesday, May 15, at the rest area just west of the signs.

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Wow! If this ruling stands, forget about billboards.

How about bar/restaurant right on the Sunrise.

Site plan--exempt
Health Dept. Permit--exempt
Liquor License--exempt
By aging hipster (183), Southampton on May 15, 19 11:01 AM
Sweet..maybe a truck stop with no tax gas!
By Preliator Lives (389), Obamavillie on May 15, 19 11:37 AM
Food van selling cigarettes and grass like a farm stand??? Great for your health and tax free...
By knitter (1690), Southampton on May 15, 19 11:50 AM
Food van selling cigarettes and grass like a farm stand??? Great for your health and tax free...
By knitter (1690), Southampton on May 15, 19 11:51 AM
I think that was a cheech and Chong movie.
By Fred s (2463), Southampton on May 15, 19 12:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By themarlinspike (307), Northern Hemisphere on May 15, 19 12:18 PM
So everyone's waiting -- the State DOT, the State Attorney General, Little Lee Zeldin -- all waiting. For what? A legal interpretation that will be challenged in court either way, if they act on it. The point is to act, now, and let the chips fall, etc.

State Assemblyman Fred Thiele and State Senator Ken Lavalle, in another situation, have introduced legislation that will probably result in the closing of the abominable Sand Land sand mine in Noyac. Great work, gents, now can you do ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1940), Quiogue on May 15, 19 1:10 PM
Fredo's administration is waiting for the polls and analysis of the impact on Dem votes depending on who they side with, Hamptonites or the Tribes (here and elsewhere). Once they confirm the Hampton's will continue to write checks and vote (D) no matter what happens, they'll side with the tribe. If it puts them at odds with the feds, all the better, they can look like defenders of Native American rights.
By MoronEliminator (185), Montauk on May 15, 19 1:38 PM
What, you expect Congress to get involved with a local zoning issue? You want Zeldin to write a law because of some billboards? Call your wonder boy Fred Steal...I mean Theile, I am sure he'll jump on it faster than a dollar in the gutter. Go knock on the loser Schniderman's door, wake Jay up from his 20 year nap. Better yet call Governor Freedo, his girlfriend dumped him, he's got time on his hands now.
By Preliator Lives (389), Obamavillie on May 15, 19 3:21 PM
All you STSTE officials get off your a---- and make a decision. Governor sitting on his hands also...
Remember election day officials...
By knitter (1690), Southampton on May 15, 19 2:07 PM
Oh they remember...that's probably why no one really wants to take a stand.
By bb (878), Hampton Bays on May 15, 19 3:27 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By lirider (265), Hampton Bays on May 15, 19 4:32 PM
Hey, hey, hey. It looks like the winds might be changing! Just passed the posts and noticed that NYS' finest were talking to the contractors that were looking to work on the sign posts. Maybe NYS is FINALLY taking notice!

There is a pic of it taking place.

https://1drv.ms/u/s!AnTqKnnJSfwth261t4t4Kby1rMlE

By longtimelocal (48), Southampton on May 17, 19 10:54 AM
Suffolk Designer Lighting, Tent Sale, Renovation Sample Sale