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Nov 12, 2019 1:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Hampton Mandates 'Cover Crops' To Fight Dust Storms

Nov 12, 2019 2:01 PM

The East Hampton Town Board has approved much-debated legislation intended to avoid another dust storm like the one that beset Amagansett last winter by requiring farmers to protect the soil on their fields from wind erosion after the fall harvest.

The law requires that a “cover crop” be planted for the winter months, and if that crop fails to take hold for whatever reason, the farmer must employ one of a variety of other methods to keep the soil in place.

The final version of the law tamped down a steep fine schedule and eliminated the possibility of a jail sentence if a field is found to not be sufficiently protected from the effects of winter’s strong winds. It also was tailored to make it clear that the protections against dust were linked only to over-wintering fields and not spring tilling.

Last winter, a confluence of heavy fall rains, geese that ate the sprouting cover crop, an early onset of bitter cold and several days of strong winds conspired to create a dust storm in downtown Amagansett. It was blamed for damaging HVAC equipment at businesses and the Amagansett Library, and causing health problems for some students at Amagansett School.

The farmer who cultivates the field, Peter Dankowski, had planted a cover crop but got it in the ground late because of an extended period of heavy rain in November and said that migrating geese then ate much of the sprouting crop.

The new law requires that if a cover crop does not take, for whatever reason, the farmer must look to other measures, like covering the field in straw or hay — a tactic that ultimately got last winter’s dust storms under control — or spraying a sticky liquid called a tackifier to keep the soil in place.

The original version of the law, introduced over the summer, drew criticism because it included provisions standard in zoning laws that dictated potential fines of up to $10,000, and even jail time if violations continued. Councilman Jeff Bragman, who sponsored the law, said that like any zoning code violations it would typically be addressed through voluntary compliance, like the alternatives discussed in the law. But farmers still objected to having such a dramatic threat looming.

The new version allows fines of up to $1,500, Mr. Bragman said.

“For all the brouhaha, it’s really a common sense thing,” he said. “This will be good for the farmers, it will be good for residents, and it will be good for the town.”

At the meeting of the Town Board last Thursday, November 7, the parents of children at the Amagansett School who were affected by the dust gave their thumbs-up to the law.

“It’s been a lengthy but good process,” Dan Mongan said. “I believe the product is a good result.”

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